Too Young to Have Mesothelioma!

by KidsSafe on September 18, 2012

“You have cancer.”

Those three words cut me to the core. It just didn’t seem possible. Surely, someone had made a mistake. My baby wasn’t even four months old. I was only 36. My life was going great; my future looked so bright.

Heather Von St. James Family

The doctor wasn’t through yet, though. It wasn’t just any cancer. I had malignant pleural mesothelioma, a particularly vicious cancer caused almost exclusively by asbestos exposure.

When I tell people, I usually get the same two questions: Didn’t the government ban all uses of asbestos? How did you get exposed? The answer to the first question is, “No.” The answer to the second question is a bit more painful — secondhand exposure, from my father’s work clothes.

My father was a construction worker. Mostly, he worked with drywall — taping, mudding and sanding. The dust produced from his work contained millions of tiny asbestos fibers that looked like harmless white dust. They were on his clothes, his overcoat, inside his car. He brought them home with him, never suspecting the damage they were doing.

At the time I learned my diagnosis, the Mayo Clinic knew of only one other case involving someone as young as I. Typical mesothelioma patients tended to be older males. Normally, they had worked in the trades, been an electrician, plumber or mechanic. Many had been exposed during military service, when asbestos was used extensively in ship construction.

Then their wives began to get sick . . . scores of them. These were the women who had washed their husband’s clothes, shaking them first to remove the dust, putting the asbestos fibers in the air where they could be easily inhaled. Other women were affected, too — teachers and secretaries in schools constructed with asbestos materials.

The next generation of mesothelioma sufferers is now showing up — the children. It seems I was at the cutting edge of an alarming trend. Mesothelioma, this deadly cancer, is being diagnosed in more and more young people. We attended school in aging buildings where the asbestos tiles were crumbling. We played in our attics, which were contaminated with the same vermiculite insulation that is still found in millions of American homes. We ran to meet Daddy when he came home from work, jumped in his arms, buried our faces in his jacket when we hugged him.

The more I get involved in the mesothelioma community, the more young patients I meet. These are men and women in their late 20s and early 30s, young people just starting their lives. Newlyweds. New parents. New workers just launching their careers. Everything has to come to a screeching halt so they can concentrate on beating mesothelioma.

Not all the news is bad, though. More and more advances are being made to treat this type of cancer. The number of survivors is increasing among all age groups and both genders. Maybe soon . . .

To hear that you have cancer is devastating. I, however, choose to remain hopeful. Many of us with mesothelioma do. We are a community, a family of sorts. We share our stories, support each other, cry when treatments don’t work, celebrate every victory.

You may wonder why I do what I do, why I share my story. The answer is simple: to bring about awareness. Until there is more awareness of this deadly form of cancer, nothing will ever change. If reading my story gives hope to a newly diagnosed mesothelioma patient or helps someone living in fear of the disease, then I am doing the right thing.

We would like to thank our new Keeping Our Kids Safe friend Heather Von St. James for sharing her story with us!

To learn more about Heather, check out & “like” her new Facebook page dedicated to mesothelioma awareness & support!

You can follow her journey: Heather Von St. James

Please, have your home and/or workplace checked if you have any doubts of the safety and long-term effects of exposure and being directly exposed to asbestos!!

You can find out more info about Mesothelioma on Heather’s links above or you check out some that the KOKS team put together, about this terrible (secret) killer, but if found soon enough, can be very treatable!!


Exposure to asbestos can be a serious health risk. However, removing asbestos from a home or building is not always the best solution. If, for example, the asbestos is undisturbed and intact, removing the asbestos can in fact be a greater risk than leaving it in place.

However, if a renovation or demolition will disturb asbestos containing materials. Disturbing asbestos can disperse particles into the air, where they can then enter the lungs and cause long-term health problems.

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