Mesothelioma survivors

The thing about cancer that no one tells you is that you are thrust into a world not only of endless doctor appointments, countless labs, CT scans, being poked literally hundreds of times until you're bruised up and down your arms, but also into a world of some of the most amazing, resilient and inspiring people you will ever know. There is also the really, really hard part very few people talk about-- the fact that a lot of those amazing people don't make it. I’ve had to say good-bye to more people in the last 7 years than I ever imagined.

Some people were more acquaintances, people I had met through others or had known about because we shared our mesothelioma cancer in common and I spoke to their families about it, while others I have known very well. They were all too young, all too innocent, all because of an insidious disease known as cancer. Others I have known only through their postings on a care page or caring bridge, but through those updates, they became a part of my life. For one reason or another, I have come to know many cancer patients with all types of cancer, in various stages of the disease. Some have carved a deeper groove in my heart than others, but one thing is the same-- we all have that horrible monster called cancer in common. Whether they are a patient or caregiver, it makes no difference. The support from people in the mesothelioma community is second to none. Like my friend Ted said to me once, “mesothelioma is the shittiest way to meet the best people,” and he couldn’t be more right.

Heather & Debbie Brewer

These last few months have hit the mesothelioma community at its core. We lost a couple of amazing mesothelioma warriors that have been so inspiring to so many. Debbie Brewer, who I was lucky enough to meet and spend time with last year at the ADAO conference, passed away suddenly and it blindsided me. Just a few weeks before that, a wonderful gentleman Bill, who I had gotten to know through the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation, had passed so I was already heartbroken.

Then, a few short weeks later, my dear friend Janelle Bedel, known as Wonder Woman to everyone who knew her, bravely fought this disease with such grace, a positive attitude and a smile on her beautiful face, had also passed. She inspired a movement on Facebook and in her hometown that caused hundreds of people to change their profile pictures to WW for Wonder Woman. Local businesses had fundraisers for her and there was even a Wonder Woman float in a parade in her honor. So many came out in support of her and her family when she passed. What was left of my heart shattered that day. It made me want to give up, and hide and throw in the towel, disconnect my phone and forget I ever had mesothelioma. I wanted to just be done with it all and not put myself out there to get to know people only to lose them. I cried. I sobbed. Then I dried my eyes, and knew I could never do that. As much as it hurts to lose people I love, I cannot and will not give up. I owe it to Debbie, Janelle and every other mesothelioma warrior I have known to keep doing what I’m doing. They would never give up and neither will I.

Heather & Janelle

I sit back and think about all the people that have passed away and my heart just aches. It aches for the families that are still here, going through each day missing that person with every ounce of their being. It makes me furious that too many people die from it still. It makes me sad to know I won't be seeing Janelle or Bill in NYC for Mesothelioma Awareness Day this fall. It breaks my heart to know I’ll never get the chance to visit Debbie in England.

But it also makes me realize that there is joy in life-- in every single day, in every single minute. It reinforces my vow to only surround myself with the positive in life, to live each day fully and be grateful for every single moment there is. I am going to do my best to make every day special with Lily and to thank my husband and appreciate all he does for us and fall more in love with him every day. I am going to spend time with family and loved ones and all that make my life as full as it is. I am going to not care anymore about the little stuff. This is something I try to do often, but one gets bogged down from time to time because of one reason or another. Especially during times of loss like this, it snaps you back to that place of being content and just BEING without taking anything for granted. I will surround myself with the positive and weed out the negative.

It also strengthens my resolve to give people hope and help them though those scary days of diagnosis and treatment. I want to be a person who people think of when they need inspiration-- “if Heather can do it, I can too.”

Losing people is hard, but losing everything I’ve fought for would be even harder. So I won’t give up, I won’t go away and I still have a lot of work left to do. Too many people still don’t know about mesothelioma or the dangers of asbestos. Together we can make a difference and we will. Like I’ve said before, I am a lighthouse and I’ll keep my light shining.