Mesothelioma Awareness Day is celebrated on September 26. This year marks the 16th annual celebration, as the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation established the first Mesothelioma Awareness Day in 2004. The yearly event was created to bring awareness to the malignant mesothelioma and promote fundraisers to help research in diagnosis and treatment.
For mesothelioma patients, survivors and their loved ones, Mesothelioma Awareness Day is an opportunity to feel support on a larger scale beyond the mesothelioma community. The day presents an opportunity to educate people on the cause of mesothelioma and how it develops, brings awareness to the importance of prevention and raises funds for much-needed research.
Shining a Spotlight on Mesothelioma
Thirteen-year pleural mesothelioma survivor and advocate Heather Von St. James looks forward to Mesothelioma Awareness Day each year. She explained, “Mesothelioma Awareness Day is finally a day that we have recognition, a day to shine a spotlight on the disease. It’s really nice to finally have a day about this disease and bring people’s awareness to it.”
Heather was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma in 2005, only three and a half months after giving birth to her daughter, Lily. Her original prognosis was just 15 months. She underwent grueling treatment, including an invasive surgery that removed one lung, the lining of her heart, part of her diaphragm and several ribs. After treatment ended, Heather faced so much uncertainty and needed time to heal before she recognized her true passion: raising awareness.
Since then, Heather has been an advocate for the mesothelioma community. She attends fundraising events and symposiums every year, visits Washington, D.C. to speak with senators about the importance of an asbestos ban, and hosts her own event, Lung Leavin’ Day, each year to celebrate life and fundraise for research and asbestos education. Heather has even worked with Greenpeace, a nonprofit environmental organization, to bring attention to the importance of funding for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the need for an asbestos ban. She also gave an interview with Soledad O’Brien on her show, Matter of Fact, to help bring more awareness to asbestos and mesothelioma.
Heather is active in the mesothelioma community. She has dedicated her life to giving back to all of the patients, survivors and loved ones impacted by the rare cancer. She advocates for the disease and an asbestos ban year-round, but especially around Mesothelioma Awareness Day.
“Every day is Mesothelioma Awareness Day to me. I usually use the whole month of September to bring awareness to it. It’s nice to have everyone on board for the one day.”
Heather Von St. James
Six-year peritoneal mesothelioma survivor Jim Dykstra also recognizes the importance of Mesothelioma Awareness Day as an opportunity to, “make others aware of the terrible disease that may not be aware of it.” Jim was diagnosed in 2013, following years of work in the HVAC industry that resulted in long-term asbestos exposure. Following surgery and radiation, Jim continues to undergo immunotherapy treatment with Keytruda® and his doctors monitor for any tumor growth.
“Too many people haven’t heard of mesothelioma, especially peritoneal mesothelioma,” Jim told Mesothelioma.com.
With mesothelioma being so rare, there are also many misconceptions around it. Jim hopes Mesothelioma Awareness Day can clarify some of these myths, like the idea that only old men develop the cancer.
“It is not only for ‘old men,’” Jim said. “It is indiscriminate. It can affect men, women and even younger people that may have been introduced by secondary exposure. And yes, after 20 to 30 years, they can develop mesothelioma.”
In addition to better education on the disease, Mesothelioma Awareness Day is a chance to provide comfort and support to those diagnosed. Jim advises, “Be positive and keep a good sense of humor. It is not the end of the world. I have survived six years so far with chemotherapy and immunotherapy.”
There are many ways to get involved during Mesothelioma Awareness Day and throughout the year, whether sharing information about the disease online or attending one of the many events hosted around the country.
“Wear blue, which is the mesothelioma color. Tweet about it, talk about it and how it has impacted you. Obviously mesothelioma has touched my life in so many ways,” Heather said.
Getting involved in conversations on social media is a great way to reach a wide audience and educate people on mesothelioma. On September 26, people will be talking about their own experiences with mesothelioma or sharing general information about the disease. Creating or sharing a post is an easy way to help raise awareness.
Another way to give back on Mesothelioma Awareness Day is by donating to organizations actively involved in mesothelioma research. The Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation, the International Mesothelioma Program and the National Cancer Institute are just a few of the agencies responsible for breakthrough developments in mesothelioma diagnosis and treatment.
No matter how people get involved, Mesothelioma Awareness Day is an important opportunity to bring recognition to mesothelioma and its cause, asbestos.