Please welcome our guest writer, Virgil Anderson. He has a diagnosis of mesothelioma which is a rare type of cancer that presents itself mainly in people aged fifty to seventy. He says over 90% of mesothelioma cases are found in people aged 55 plus and it disproportionately affects men due to the correlation with working in the trades. Virgil is from the USA. If you are looking for Canadian content, you can visit the Canadian Mesothelioma Foundation for more information. For more information on asbestos, visit Web MD.
My Cancer Story
My name is Virgil Anderson, and my experience with mesothelioma has been a difficult one. I was exposed to asbestos through the work I did as a young man and am paying the price now by being diagnosed with this rare and terrible cancer. It causes uncomfortable, painful symptoms, limits my ability to get around, and has left me with deep emotional scars. And yet, I have managed to maintain hope and a positive perspective as a I fight this disease.
Asbestos in the Workplace
My story begins with my upbringing in West Virginia. We all worked hard in my family, and had to in order to make ends meet. As soon as I was old enough for a real, paying job, I got into demolition. This was as a teenager when I was young and strong and able to do this tough, physical work. As I helped tear down old buildings I remember being constantly surrounded by dust. Only later did I realize that there were asbestos fibers in the dust and that I was inadequately protected from it.
Later I was able to get more skilled work. I learned to be an auto mechanic, which was much more interesting work and paid better. Throughout my career in this industry I also did work that caused me to be exposed to asbestos. I tore out hood liners, which had been made with asbestos to protect against the heat of the engine. I removed and replaced brakes and clutches, also made with asbestos. Opening up those parts, the dust would fly, and again it was asbestos.
A Mesothelioma Diagnosis – The Risks of Asbestos
All of those tiny fibers of asbestos I inhaled over the years would come back to haunt me. Not everyone who is exposed to asbestos gets sick, but those who do suffer from the damage the small, needle-like fibers cause as they lodge in the tissues of the body. Because the fibers are often inhaled, they get stuck in the tissue around the lungs, called the pleura. Here they cause damage that can lead to a number of illnesses.
In my case, that illness would turn out to be pleural mesothelioma, a cancer of the pleural tissue. Around the age of 50, after working for decades, I began to experience respiratory symptoms. When I went to the ER, I was diagnosed with pneumonia, but antibiotics didn’t help and my symptoms only got worse. Eventually I was correctly diagnosed, and found out I had developed mesothelioma after years of working with and around asbestos.
Treatment for Mesothelioma
Getting treatment for mesothelioma was challenging, as there are few specialists qualified to work with this rare cancer. Ultimately I was able to secure financial assistance and care through the National Cancer Institute. I was not a candidate for surgery, but I have had chemotherapy treatments to slow the growth of the tumors.
What really keeps me going and motivates me to keep fighting are my family and my faith. Without family I don’t know where I would be. Since I can’t work I can’t earn and I rely on them to provide me with a home and to take care of me. As I fight this awful cancer, I know I may not survive it, but I take comfort in my faith and in the time I still have with the people I love. My message to others with this disease is to find your own source of comfort and inspiration. Keep fighting, and enjoy the important things in life.
Written by Virgil Anderson
Angela G. Gentile MSW, RSW is a clinical social worker and author of the book, “Caring for a Husband with Dementia: The Ultimate Survival Guide”, “A Book About Burnout: One Social Worker’s Tale of Survival” and the “Dementia Caregiver Solutions” app for iPhone and iPad. She lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba with her husband and has two adult children. She is creator of the Facebook communities – “Aging Well for Women” as well as “God, Cancer and Me.” For more information, visit: www.AngelaGGentile.com