Heather and John Panza

September was such a jam-packed month of mesothelioma awareness activities, that it’s now taken me more than a month to even process it all and get it all written down. In addition to participating in Mesothelioma Awareness Day on September 26th, I went to three different events throughout the course of the month. You can read about my experiences at the Kayaking 4 Meso and Miles for Meso events.

The last event I attended in September was not quite as adventurous, but it was certainly no less important than the others. It focused on the research being done towards finding a cure toward mesothelioma, which is really what all this fundraising and awareness is ultimately about.

Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation Symposium

I wrapped up my whirlwind month of travels by attending the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation’s regional symposium on malignant mesothelioma in Chicago. It was a one-day seminar on all things mesothelioma, featuring prominent doctors from some of the Midwest’s best medical centers. The Mayo Clinic here in Minnesota was well represented, as was the Cleveland Clinic and The University of Chicago.

The presentations ranged from the newest trials happening at The University of Chicago, to novel surgery techniques happening at the Mayo Clinic. They talked about both peritoneal and pleural disease, and how immunotherapy is a promising treatment for both types of the disease. The day was filled with information and education and I came away with a better grasp of what is happening in the research world of mesothelioma treatments.

People often ask me, if I had to do it over would I follow the same path, having the surgery I had, even knowing all I know now? The answer is a unequivocal yes. I would not change a thing, except maybe exercise more.

The reason I attend these events is two-fold. Number one, so I can keep my finger on the pulse of what is happening, so when I talk with other patients I am able to keep them informed. And two, the community. Each event is about the amazing and supportive mesothelioma community and all the incredible relationships I’ve built over the last 11 years.

The main reason I would not change a thing is that simple fact. The people. The mesothelioma community is full of the most caring, loving, and kind individuals I’ve ever had the good fortune to know, and even though we all have been brought together by tragedy, it is the silver lining in which makes it all bearable.

I’m so proud to be able to travel the country and support all these incredible events put on by people touched by mesothelioma. I don’t take it lightly that I am healthy enough to do it, and do so in honor of those who can’t. I hope that with all the money raised, and awareness there is being brought about that we see an end to the suffering that mesothelioma and asbestos causes.

And I hope to do it all again next year!