Advocate of the Month – March 2012 logo

The Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance would like to take a moment to thank Kelly Diaz De Leon, the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance Advocate of the Month for March. Kelly has been a big contributor on our social community by offering support and words of wisdom to others affected by cancer. Below is an interview with Kelly about how Mesothelioma affected and changed her way of life and why she continues to spread the message of MCA.

MCA: Has cancer affected you in some way? If so, in what way? Tell us about your experience.

Kelly Diaz De Leon:

Cancer did not run on my dad’s side of the family. On my mom’s side, my grandmother did pass away from breast cancer. My mom has had tumors in her breast removed and also skin cancer on her nose but is now doing fine. With my dad we were taken by surprise and I’ve had to realize that cancer can happen to anyone at any age.

My dad started with a cough late November 2009 and by December 2009 the cough become worse. He started to get a shortness of breath along with a pain in his left lung. In January 2010, his symptoms kept progressing. Meanwhile, visits to the doctors just told him he had a cold because it was wintertime and a lot of people were sick. Finally, doctors took an x-ray and realized my dad had a lot of fluid that built up in his lung. The fluid was removed but proved to be only a temporary relief because his lung soon had fluid in it again.

Days turned into months of more and more severe pain on the side of lung along with coughing. He went from a regular hospital to a VA hospital in hopes for finding any answers as to what was causing this horrific pain. When no answers were found at the VA hospital, we began seeing seeing pain specialist and pulmonologists only to still be puzzled by what was causing my dad’s cough and pain.

My sisters and I had been doing our own research with the suspicion of cancer, but inconclusive results were not confirming our beliefs at the time. In October 2010, another biopsy of my dad’s left lung was done and brought back results that confirmed our belief; dad had cancer. The doctor’s were finally able to determine it was Mesothelioma and things were not looking good.

My dad did opt to try chemotherapy to extend his survival chances but he had already become too thin and weak to continue chemo. We were blessed to have him with us until December 27, 2010. My dad experienced a lot in all the months that had passed and my family did our very best to help him in any way we could. We spent many sleepless months taking care of him and trying to find anything that would help take away the horrific pain he endured. My dad was such a trooper and was so brave through it all. He always tried to keep his spirits up and never let go of his sense of humor and his faith. Before, I never truly realized what a cancer patient went through until it happened to my dad. I’m now more aware of things that can cause cancer, things to avoid to reduce my risk of getting cancer and I have a lot of compassion for those who are fighting their battle with cancer everyday.

MCA: How has this shaped you as the person you are today?

Kelly Diaz De Leon:

I have friends and co-workers who are also dealing with loved ones with cancer who didn’t know what to do when they found out. I was able to give them more support and resources of what they can do to help.

MCA: If you were affected by cancer, what are the two biggest things you learned through this experience?

Kelly Diaz De Leon:

I’ve learned not to take my family, friends, and loved ones for granted. Your life can change in a flash and I wouldn’t want to have any regrets. Tell the people those simple things that should be a part of your everyday vocabulary – you love them, thank you, excuse me, I’m sorry, hello, good morning, good night, and how can I help you? Supporting, guiding, and making contributions to other people is one of life’s greatest rewards. In order to get, you have to give. I personally have faith in the Lord that has helped heal my heart with life’s trials and getting through another day.

MCA: What was your motivation to become the MCA Advocate of the Month?

Kelly Diaz De Leon:

I lost my dear and loving dad to Mesothelioma because of his exposure to asbestos during his time he served in the Navy, fighting for our country. I feel very few people know and understand what Mesothelioma is and how people are affected by this cancer. This is a type of cancer that more and more people are going to be affected by since it tends to come out many years after you’ve been exposed to asbestos. Very little research has been done in this area compared to many other types of cancers. If I can help, support, or encourage at least one person or family dealing with this right now and let them know, that they are not alone.

MCA: If you could say one thing to the world about cancer or mesothelioma specifically, what would it be?

Kelly Diaz De Leon:

Your health is your life, keep up with it. Get an annual physical check-up. Don’t ignore any signs your body is telling you or any symptom that doesn’t feel right. If you already know you’ve had some type of exposure to asbestos, get checked out right away and make your doctors aware of it. Early symptoms can be shortness of breath, pain in the chest, and a lot of coughing. Don’t let them ignore and pass off that you may just have a cold or bronchitis. Get a second opinion from another doctor if needed because the earlier you know about Mesothelioma, the more options you have to get treated.

MCA: Is there anything else you would like to say to the MCA community?

Kelly Diaz De Leon:

I hope that someday the use of asbestos will be banned so people will no longer have to deal with this unnecessary cancer. I also hope and pray that more research for Mesothelioma can done to find a cure.