Patricia and her husband Jerry

What would you do if it turned out the job you love could also kill you? That’s not just a possibility for soldiers, police officers, and others in relatively dangerous professions. For Patricia Powell Hargrett, a public school teacher for a quarter of a century, it became a reality when she was diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma.

“I spent 25 years as an educator in the public school district,” Patricia told the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance, “but it has yet to be determined where the source of exposure to asbestos occurred.”

For, her it was possible that she was spending time in an environment for so long that was a silent killer, it was very unsettling. Patricia had no idea that asbestos could be in a place were she taught every day, and it would result in a deadly cancer. These circumstances unfortunately still affect far too many schools in the United States and around the world. Now, she wants others to beware of the danger.

“If you are working in an area built before 1983, be aware that the building may or may not contain asbestos. I feel the only way others can protect themselves is by knowing what causes the disease. The more others become aware, the less likely they will come in contact with asbestos. The problem must be identified, so others can be protected and be aware of the risk. Products are labeled that will kill you. The government should be responsible and let others know that asbestos will kill you.”

Dealing with Diagnosis

Receiving a mesothelioma diagnosis understandably gave Patricia a scare. “My husband and I, along with my family, were in shock,” she said. “After obtaining all the necessary information to get a better understanding of the disease and the survival rate, we discussed our options as a family. Together we decided on which treatment would possibly give me a better chance of survival.”

Dealing with the diagnosis took more than just determining the course of treatment, however. Patricia had to rely on those who were closest to her to provide encouragement and spiritual support. “My family, friends, neighbors, and church were very supportive,” Patricia recalls. “Their support was important to my recovery.” She also tells of a particular friend who accompanied her throughout the treatment process. “She spent many nights in the hospital and provided encouragement to me every moment.”

Upon returning home, Patricia was able to rely on her family and friends to handle all the various tasks that needed to be done. “Friends and family made sure that everything was taken care of,” she says, “food needs, cleaning, etc. My friends who had cancer previously, shared their experiences to encourage me.”

In giving advice to others who have been diagnosed with cancer, Patricia recommends connecting with those who can offer similar support. “Identify a support group, whether it be family or friends that previously are cancer survivors, for support and encouragement. Just remain positive and use their testimony to keep you from developing negative thoughts.” She also stresses the importance of staying positive and relying on faith. “Remember that doctors diagnose, but they are not God. Continue to remain positive in spite of what it looks like to you.”

The most important thing, Patricia explained, is to be accepting and open to receiving help. While being self-reliant is good at times, there are also times when we need to admit to ourselves that we need assistance. “Please, don't be too proud to receive help,” she pleads. “Others want to help you to recover.”

Finding Ways to Help Others

One of the most inspirational aspects of Patricia’s story is that even while she was going through her own struggles with mesothelioma, she was finding ways to help others. Before her diagnosis, she had used her crochet skills to make clothing for those who were less fortunate than her.

“I began making scarves for the homeless population before I got ill,” Patricia said, describing her personal nonprofit project known in her circle as Warm Necks. “I would make hats and scarves for the homeless all year and turn them in when the weather gets colder.”

After her diagnosis, Patricia carried her generous spirit right into the cancer center where she received her treatments. “While receiving chemo, I continued to crochet and make hats for cancer patients. Each time I received a treatment, I would finish hats and give them to the cancer patients.”

Working Toward a Better World

She doesn’t stop with these personal gestures. Patricia is using her extensive experience as a teacher to help educate others about the importance of banning asbestos and finding a cure for mesothelioma. In fact, she considers such awareness activities to be an important role for her as a survivor. “As a mesothelioma survivor, any opportunity that presents itself, is an opportunity to make others aware that asbestos needs to be banned and how important it is to find a cure for the disease.”

In Patricia’s eyes, such educational responsibilities also extend to those who are in the mesothelioma community at large. “For those who are aware of the fatal outcome of mesothelioma, we must continue to make it known to the masses,” she charges. “The government must see the damage and know that this disease continues to destroy families every day. We can write our congressmen and push for a full ban on asbestos. Also, [we can] lend help to those that are currently fighting to ban asbestos in the United States.”

Given her passion, Patricia has inspired others to fight for awareness about mesothelioma and the dangers posed by asbestos, including those in her own family. One notable example is Patricia’s daughter-in-law, Vida Hargrett, an internationally known beauty queen and the spokesperson for the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation. “Our family supports my daughter-in-law in her efforts to bring attention to asbestos,” Patricia said proudly. “She uses it as her platform for international pageants.”

The support of her family doesn’t stop there, though. Patricia offered some insight into future plans to bring even more attention to these critical issue. “My family and I hope in the future to sponsor a 5K walk or Fitness Challenge,” she said, “to help raise monies for a cure for mesothelioma.”

Get a Checkup Now!

One action that Patricia strongly believes everyone should take is to get regular checkups with a family doctor. It’s not just enough to be aware of the potential dangers: According to Patricia, individuals also need to take responsibility for their own health, especially since catching mesothelioma and other forms of cancer at an early stage is the best way to improve prognosis.

“Annual physicals are important to maintaining good health,” Patricia advises. “Mesothelioma or any other disease cannot be identified unless you have an exam. The earlier you get diagnosed, the better chance of survival.”

She attributes her own survival to her diligence in getting regular checkups. “If I had not received an annual checkup, I wouldn't have been diagnosed and could not have receive medical treatment.”