A fellow Navy veteran has died as a result of mesothelioma cancer. Kalamazoo County Commissioner Grady Biby died on February 3rd. He spent twenty years in the Navy.

Biby, an Oklahoma native, was a Navy man from 1959 until retiring in 1979, when he went to work for the Palisades Nuclear Power Plant in South Haven, Michigan. He remained there until 1995 and later began his own company with a relative. Biby also worked for the Census Bureau and a Michigan construction company. Biby was best known, however, for his four terms as commissioner for Kalamazoo County.

Biby told his fellow commissioners in July that he would be taking a two-month leave of absence to undergo treatment for the rare cancer known as mesothelioma. Unfortunately, Biby did not return to work.

Biby’s widow, Linda Kerr, served as the Township Clerk for Texas Township during the 1990s, and her husband later joined the Texas Township Zoning Board of Appeals. Biby was elected to the Kalamazoo County Board in 2002.

Kerr told the Kalamazoo Gazette in February that her late husband was “always prepared” and was “a good man and a thoroughly good commissioner.” The Kalamazoo County Board Vice Chairman, Deb Buchholtz, called her colleague’s cancer diagnosis a “shock,” and said that Biby and his friends and family were hoping that new and experimental mesothelioma treatments might become available for him.

Biby received treatment in Boston, but oncologists told him that his pleural mesothelioma was too far advanced to be removed surgically. This is not uncommon, as mesothelioma is especially aggressive and often spreads quickly, making it nearly impossible to treat. Biby underwent chemo back in his home state of Michigan.

Countless Navy vets were exposed to asbestos, the only known cause of mesothelioma cancer, while serving on naval vessels and nuclear subs, where Biby was assigned. Asbestos materials were found all over naval ships, and up until the 1980s, the health dangers of exposure to asbestos were not fully understood. 30% of all veterans with mesothelioma cancer are Navy veterans.

A funeral for Grady Biby was held in February at the Calvary Reformed Church.

It is sad to read about the death of a fellow Navy man, and it is important that all veterans, from all branches of service, fully understand the health risks associated with asbestos exposure. If you are a veteran who served in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and any other conflict, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, you should speak with your doctor about respiratory health monitoring. Mesothelioma generally has a latency period of up to fifty years, so vets are often in their late sixties or early seventies when they are diagnosed. Mesothelioma symptoms are also similar to those of other illnesses, and mesothelioma is far too often misdiagnosed.

Vets who suffer from a lingering cough, the presence of fluid in their lungs, or are having difficulty breathing should ask their doctor about mesothelioma diagnostic tests. Mesothelioma is found most often in Navy veterans, but former members of all branches of service are at risk.