Let’s talk about Mesothelioma

MESO – WHAT? If you read the subject of todays post and wondered what that word is, don’t worry I’m not swearing at you. Do not advance to another page to do a quick Google search either because I’ll get there in a moment.

You remember that time when the use of Asbestos was prohibited in South Africa? That time, in 2008, when we joined 50 other countries in the prohibition? No? Admittedly I wouldn’t have remembered it either if I hadn’t been working at a construction company at that time. If your answer is no to the questions above, no worries, I’m going to tell you about it. Maybe not all about the whole process or go into too much detail about Asbestos either. I’d like to discuss Mesothelioma.

Until a few short weeks ago I had never heard of the word, much less knew that it was a type of cancer. When I saw the “C” word my interest was piqued. For those of you who don’t know, I have no love for cancer. Zero. Cancer has claimed family and friends as their own and the worst part was watching them suffer before ultimately dying. Although I must admit that in many cases it’s not the disease that kills patients but the treatment. There are no guarantees to their quality of life after treatment depending on the severity of the disease. What I do love though, is supporting the cause, patients and survivors and help raise awareness where I can.

A short while ago I spoke to Mesothelioma survivor Heather Von St. James. As I read her story I couldn’t help but cry. Sadness for what she’s had to endure, tears of joy for her survival status, her family and also because she has taken the initiative to make her voice heard and be a spokesperson for the cause.

“Because with hope, the odds don’t matter.” Heather Von St. James

Mesothelioma Cancer

Image courtesy of the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance.

Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer affecting affecting the membrane lining of the lungs and abdomen. A fatal tumor that grows on the lungs. Like many other types of cancers, there is no cure. There is however treatment available to improve your quality of life and even increase your life expectancy.

The thing about Mesothelioma is that you don’t have to be exposed to Asbestos directly. Like second hand smoke can affect someone else’s lungs, so can Asbestos. Because it’s a fibrous mineral, particles attach to ones body and clothing which then transfers to those you come into contact with. This is what happened to Heather as her father was the “carrier” of the asbestos when she was a child. Mesothelioma is a bit tricky to diagnose as it mimmicks other illnesses and ailments. Looking at the symptoms makes me think of a whole array of other respiratory illnesses with Tuberculosis being a front runner.

Symptoms of Mesothelioma is:

•Chest and abdominal pain

•Persistent coughing, coughing of blood

•Weight loss


Treatment for it is:

1. Chemotherapy

2. Radiation therapy

3. Surgery

Did you know that Asbestos is still used in the US?

A few facts about Mesothelioma

Asbestos Fact Sheet

You may know Asbestosis to be a common illness associated with Asbestos, especially in South Africa. It’s a chronic lung disease which leads to long term respiratory complications. Sadly it also has no cure. I first learnt about Asbestosis at the construction company I worked at and that is why I was happy when it was prohibited in our country.

Symptoms of Asbestosis is:

•Chest tightness or pain

•Fingertips and toes that appear wider and rounder than normal (clubbing)

•Loss of appetite with weight loss

•A persistent, dry cough

•Shortness of breath

Looking at the similarity between the symptoms of Mesothelioma and Asbestosis you’ll note why the former is a tricky disease to diagnose. Thanks to Department of Thoracic Surgery at the University of the Witswater and Johannesburg General Hospital in South Africa’s research more evidence has been provided on the link between asbestos exposure and the development of pleural mesothelioma.

Some information on Asbestos:

Asbestos is fibrous mineral, which was mainly used in construction up to the late 90’s. Because of its heat resistant properties it’s usually used for insulating purposes. Affordability also played an important role in the manufacturing and usage thereof in earlier years hence its popularity. The use of Asbestos has not been limited to building materials though. Car parts, roads, and school playgrounds to clothing and bedding has been reported to contain this mineral.

Knowing this, isn’t it scary to think that the US and other countries are still using Asbestos?