Robert and Rachel

Bob Thomas is the tower of strength for his family, someone who has always been there to help his children and grandchildren, providing support, enjoyment, and love for all.

“I have so many childhood memories at my grandparent’s house,” Bob’s granddaughter Rachel recently told the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance, “playing dress up, putting makeup on my Pop, playing school, playing board games with my grandparents, Christmas mornings, playing outside in the sprinkler…I could go on for days.”

“More recently, he was coaching my cousin’s little league football team, playing golf multiple times a week, going on trips with friends, and relaxing in the pool or at the beach as much as he could,” Rachel continued. “My Pop is such a family man, so I would have to say that his number one interest is his family.”

Then, in February 2015, Bob was diagnosed with biphasic pleural mesothelioma. He was 74 years old.

“My grandparents have been together for 60-plus years,” Rachel told the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance. “This disease is robbing a committed, loving family of their backbone, the heart and soul of my family.”

How Mesothelioma Affects an Entire Family

At first, Bob Thomas was thought to have a relatively harmless condition. “He suffered from what was thought to be benign pleural effusion,” Rachel said. “After several thoracentesis and no resolution to the pleural effusion the thoracic surgeon opted to do a pleurectomy and visually inspected the lungs and found what he believed to be mesothelioma.”

Tissue samples were taken and submitted for further analysis. When the results came back, the diagnosis was verified. “Pathology confirmed the surgeon's fear,” Rachel added.

Now, approximately 18 months after diagnosis, Rachel looks back over the time and sees how much things have changed, both for her grandfather himself and for her family as a whole.

“I have watched how much mesothelioma has taken from him in the short year and a half since his diagnosis, and it is absolutely heartbreaking,” Rachel said. “The harsh reality is that mesothelioma may, one day, physically take him away from me, but he has made such an impact on my heart, and my life, that it could never rob me of his love, his ability to make me laugh no matter what the situation, his compassion, and unconditional love for his family or the memories I have of watching him love my Grandmother.”

The Thomas family consists of Bob and his wife of 57 years, their two children, and four grandchildren, including Rachel. Originally from Maryland, Bob Thomas and his wife lived in Virginia for a time, and then retired Florida, where most of the Thomases now live. Throughout her life, Rachel has seen her grandfather’s influence on the family as it has evolved over the years.

Robert and family

“My mother was a single parent raising two girls on her own, but my grandparents were always there if we needed something,” Rachel recalled.

“I could never be able to put into words what my grandfather means to me, or my family,” she continued. “I could never be able to tell you how much he has taught me in my 26 years on this Earth, but the thing that I love most about him is that I have never had to question if he would be there, how much he loved me, or how much he cared about me.”

Rachel says her grandfather has shown her what it means to be compassionate and to serve others. “He is, hands down, the best role model a family could have,” she said. “I think the greatest thing that he taught me was to be selfless, in every aspect of your life. He gives selflessly to everyone-friends, family, and strangers: whether it be love, time or compassion.”

That example has continued even with Bob’s diagnosis and treatment. “Even throughout this battle with Mesothelioma, he has always taught me not to give up, no matter what the circumstances are,” Rachel stated. “No matter how badly he may want to, or how miserable he feels, he hasn’t given up thus far, and no matter the outcome he’s given mesothelioma a run for its money. I wouldn’t have expected anything less. He’s a fighter. He’s my hero.”

That isn’t to say that the experience hasn’t been costly. “I know that right now he feels defeated and weak,” Rachel told the MCA, “and I hate mesothelioma for that. But he will always be my Pop, he will always be the man that is the light of his little girl’s life. I am so proud of his fight, his courage, and his strength. He will always be my hero.”

Helping Others Through Awareness

Rachel says that her family’s experience with mesothelioma has led her to understand the importance of awareness about the disease and the deadly nature of asbestos.

“I try to raise as much awareness as possible by buying Meso Awareness apparel and posting about my Grandfather,” she said. In particular, Rachel has participated in a number of cancer-related runs to help bring awareness to this rare form of the disease, including the Free to Breathe 5K (twice) and the Monument 10K in Richmond, Virginia. ”I would like to run in the Miles for Meso 8K in Northern, Virginia,” Rachel added, “but last year it was canceled – I will try again this September.”

Robert and Rachel

Rachel has also inspired others to become advocates and supporters of mesothelioma awareness as well. “I have even gotten coworkers together, with my Pop’s name on their back, to walk in some 5Ks. I had a post up for Mesothelioma Awareness Day last September, asking people to wear blue to support Mesothelioma Awareness, and I received dozens of picture in honor of my sweet Pop from friends and family all around the country.”

Awareness of the disease is important, but Rachel also believes it’s necessary for people to know how to avoid getting it.

“I would tell people to educate themselves,” she explained. “Before my Pop’s diagnosis, mesothelioma to me was just a word on a lawsuit commercial that came on while I was watching my favorite TV show. Now that I have researched asbestos and educated myself with this type of cancer, I am more aware.”