A friend of mine once told me: There is no more innocent victim than a person diagnosed with mesothelioma. They are sick as a direct result of being exposed to a substance that should be banned, but shockingly is still widely used around the world. I am talking about asbestos. That insidious little fiber that was put into so many products in the last century, and is still used today in many commercial applications. Once breathed in, asbestos lays dormant for 20-30 (sometimes even up to 50) years and then strikes without warning, making people so sick that most die within 18 months of diagnosis.
Sadly, those who truly know about mesothelioma are those that have already been diagnosed. Sure, most people have heard of it from a commercial or two during daytime television, but for many that is the extent of awareness. What people don't understand is that this disease is so much more than just a commercial. It is painful, devastating, and it affects real people. Good people who had no idea that simply taking a breath at work, in school or even at home could one day give them cancer.
Mesothelioma struck me in the prime of my life. I was just 36 years old, and had just recently given birth to a beautiful baby girl. I was looking forward to being a new mom and raising my daughter, but then everything changed. I got very sick. The more I researched the disease, the more hopeless my situation seemed. Thankfully, I've had excellent medical care, and was referred to the world's leading specialist in the disease. Through radical surgery, chemo and radiation, I'm alive over seven years later.
I started becoming more active in the mesothelioma community a few years after my treatments were over. I had found the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to research and patient advocacy of mesothelioma. It was reassuring to know I was not alone, and people understood what I was going through. I met other survivors, caregivers, and activists; people who have been affected in one-way or another by mesothelioma. It was this foundation that lead the charge for a day of awareness - September 26th, Mesothelioma Awareness Day.
Looking at Breast Cancer Awareness and what I call the "pink ribbon example," I was overjoyed to learn about this initiative. Through increased awareness, and early detection, the survival rate for breast cancer has improved greatly. Everyone knows what the pink ribbon stands for. The promising result of an awareness campaign that started small shows me that awareness days can make a huge difference.
Cities all over the country now recognize September 26 as Mesothelioma Awareness Day. A few years ago, a new tradition started with hopes of national recognition. Brave mesothelioma warriors from all over the country came to New York City for Mesothelioma Awareness Day to spread the word. We all wore matching shirts, held signs, and simply sparked the conversation about mesothelioma. As a survivor of the disease, it makes me proud to be one of the faces in that crowd, holding up a sign and using my voice to help others. There is something so empowering about exposing this disease that has taken far too many innocent lives. Above all, it reminds me that I'm doing my part to raise awareness, because that is how a movement starts. One person. One story. One awareness day at a time.
This year, I am taking it a step further and bringing Mesothelioma Awareness Day online. What I'm asking is simple: I don't want donations, money, or too much of your time. I only ask for voices. Voices to spread awareness. My campaign simply asks people to donate their social status and give their voice to the victims of mesothelioma. Share this information on Facebook. Tweet it at your friends. Simply tell someone! The more voices we have talking about this disease, the more lives we can save.
Hopefully one day we will have a cure for mesothelioma, and no one will have to suffer as so many have. It all starts with awareness. Join us on September 26th. Will you give your voice to the victims?