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I always look forward to conferences, to me, they’re like a family reunion. They’re a reunion you look forward to. They’re a reunion with the cool relatives you actually like to spend time with. My wife Heather, a mesothelioma cancer survivor, calls conferences cancer camp-- like summer camp, but without the canoeing and backpacking. No matter what we call it, Heather and I always have a great time and make new friends.
This year, I was asked to speak at a conference we look forward to a lot-- the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization’s (ADAO) 11th annual International Asbestos Awareness Conference that was held in Washington D.C. in April. This year’s theme was “Where Knowledge and Action Unite.” I was honored to be able to join medical professionals, policy makers, asbestos victims, and other family members and loved ones as a speaker, and share my experiences as a caregiver.
It’s not uncommon for me to meet another caregiver or another cancer warrior in my everyday life, but it’s another matter to meet someone else who’s fighting mesothelioma. Conferences are where I get to spend time with other meso fighters my wife and I have so much in common with. I love attending a conference where others are fighting the same battle to ban the use of asbestos, and are spreading awareness of the dangers of asbestos and asbestos-related diseases.
This year’s ADAO conference had visitors from 10 countries, including Yvonne Waterman from the Netherlands, who will be hosting the 1st conference of the European Asbestos Forum in Amsterdam this May, and filmmaker Arturo Aguilar from Mexico, who screened a preview of his latest documentary about the harm that asbestos industries inflicted on Mexican society and individual families called “Zero Asbestos.”
I also met Syed Ahmed from Pakistan. He is an incredible young man involved with the Syed Fareed Ahmed Memorial Mesothelioma General Hospital Foundation in Pakistan, which is hosting the first asbestos conference in Pakistan called “Ban Asbestos Pakistan.” Also in attendance was my brother from another mother from Down Under Barry Robson, president of the Asbestos Diseases Foundation of Australia. I always look forward to spending time chatting with Barry.
My speech was titled “Caregivers Unite,” and it discussed tips and observations on how to be a more effective caregiver, and how to use technology to unite and expand your support network. I was also able to have a few other powerful experiences, like meeting award-winning photographer Earl Dotter, who was in attendance to share his latest photographic exhibition “Badges: A Memorial Tribute to Asbestos Workers.” I was also able to hear a powerful and moving speech from Sue Vento, mesothelioma widow of the late Bruce Vento, member of the U.S. House of Representatives. I was so proud to be able to contribute to such an amazing event.
I always leave conferences fired up and wanting to do more to raise awareness about the dangers of asbestos, and to speak about caregiving, and this time was no different. However, I left this conference with a specific task that was inspired by Earl Dotter and his exhibition. I was inspired to print out photographs of the short three-and-a-half month period of time when my wife and I went from expecting our first child, to new parents, to Heather’s mesothelioma diagnosis and beginning our cancer journey. I want to be able to pull these photographs out the next time I’m sitting on a plane, or just chatting with a stranger and they ask about my story. Then, I’ll be able to take these photos out and take them through my journey. I’m hoping the images will help convey what my words never can or will be able to. And I’m hoping they help me connect to those around me.
I’m looking forward to my next opportunity to speak. I had such a great time at this year’s ADAO conference and I’m looking forward to the next “family reunion!”
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