Bernie Chavers is diagnosed with mesothelioma; he questions, "How long am I going to live?"
Bernie Edward Chavers was born on July 4, 1941, in Belvedere Township, California. Bernie attended Gravois Elementary School & All Saints Catholic School, Los Angeles, California. He went to high school at San Gabriel Mission High School, San Gabriel Mission, California. After completing the 10th grade, in 1957, Bernie joined the United States Navy. He was only 16 years old.
Bernie is exposed to asbestos while serving aboard the U.S.S Hancock (CVA-19)
Bernie trained for a year at the naval air station in Corpus Christie, Texas. From 1958-1962, he was assigned to the U.S.S Hancock (CVA 19) in Alameda, California. Bernie rested in the top bunk while aboard the U.S.S Hancock, nearby the piping. When jets catapulted off the carrier, the asbestos insulation and block covering the piping would be jarred, spewing asbestos dust and fibers about Bernie's face. Bernie often worked around asbestos-covered piping below deck working as a deckhand "anywhere it was needed." He clearly recalled the asbestos block and insulation that covered the pipes because it reminded him of a "cast." During repairs, Bernie recalled the asbestos dust that covered his work environment. After serving as a deckhand, Bernie became the ship's store manager; he was responsible for preserving and rationing the perishable foods. After five years of service in the U.S. Navy, Bernie was honorably discharged in June 1962.
Bernie had an eleven year career as a mechanic and truck driver
After serving his Country, Bernie became head mechanic at a prominent oil company in Los Angles, California. Throughout the '60's and '70 Bernie continued to work as a mechanic at service stations and dealerships throughout Des Plaines, Elk Grove, and Itasca, Illinois. During that time he became a member of the Auto Mechanics Union, Local 701.
In 1978, Bernie became a self-employed truck driver. He later recalled doing brake and clutch repairs. In 1989, Bernie became a truck technician for a dealership in Elgin, Illinois. Bernie focused on repairing trucks. Bernie remembered all the asbestos dust that was generated from grinding the brake pads. The asbestos dust covered not only his work space but his clothing. He could not help but breath in the asbestos dust on a daily basis.
Bernie's flu like symptoms lead to a mesothelioma diagnosis
In June, 1998, Bernie noticed that he was often fatigued and short of breath. He slept little due to a persistent cough which kept him up all night. Within a short period of time, Bernie lost twenty-five pounds. These symptoms were unusual for Bernie; he was healthy his entire life.
In October, 1998, Bernie went for a physical exam. After learning of his symptoms, his primary physician referred him to Kirkland Medical Center in Kirkland, Illinois, for an x-ray. Doctors at Kirkland Medical discovered fluid in his left lung. Shortly thereafter Bernie underwent an immediate thoracentesis at St. Anthony's Medical Center in Rockford, Illinois. Two liters of blood and fluid was drained from his lung. In the short term, some of Bernie's discomforts were alleviated but, unfortunately, his symptoms did not cease.
Doctors at the Mayo Clinic diagnose Bernie with mesothelioma
In late October, 1998, a biopsy was taken at St. Anthony's Medical Center and sent to Mayo Clinic for evaluation. During the procedure, additional pleural fluid in his lung was drained. On October 22, 1998, doctors at the Mayo Clinic diagnosed Bernie with malignant epithelioid mesothelioma.
Bernie's treating physician then told him he only had one year to live. Bernie said the news hit him like a rock. He had worked for many years with and around asbestos and never been warned that it was harmful. Doctors discussed the possibility of receiving tri-modality therapy - a risky procedure that could potentially prolong his life another year. Doctors gave Bernie a 40% chance of living 40 months. He decided it was a chance worth taking.
Bernie undergoes pleural pneumectomy to combat his mesothelioma
On November 9, 1998, Bernie underwent an extrapleural pneumectomy at the Mayo Clinic. Given the gravity of the mesothelioma tumor, his entire left lung was removed. Although the surgery was very painful, Bernie did well in the immediate post-operative period. His post-operative treatment consisted of chemotherapy and radiation at the University of Wisconsin Comprehensive Cancer Center, Madison, Wisconsin. Bernie and his wife, Mary, drove back and forth to the hospital five days a week for a total of six weeks. Bernie received thirty treatments. Mary said, "It was a life-saving 194-mile round trip."
Bernie was determined to work the rest of his life before being diagnosed with mesothelioma
Bernie had never intended to stop working; he figured he would work the rest of his life. Once diagnosed with mesothelioma, working no longer was an option. Bernie continually wondered how long he was going to live and, in his absence, who was going to take care of his wife and family.
Mesothelioma leaves Bernie feeling helpless
Bernie described himself as an "outdoorsman." He loved to go camping & horseshoeing, snowmobile, and fish. After being diagnosed with mesothelioma, he was unable to enjoy the hobbies he once loved. He said, "I just haven't got the energy or the strength to do it."
Bernie soon grew too weak to care for himself. He became dependant on his wife, Mary, to provide for his daily needs. For Bernie, the experience was humiliating. He said, "I don't do anything except dress myself and take showers. Mary has to do all the housework. I have to call my son-in-laws in to fix my cars and truck because I can't do anything." Being diagnosed with mesothelioma made Bernie feel like a burden. He was conscious of the strain it put on his entire family; he was grateful for their love and continued support. His daughters offered financial support to Bernie so that he could afford his monthly bills. Bernie and Mary relied on their daughter's "gifting." Bernie later said of his children's assistance, "I felt sorry for them because I thought I was interrupting their lives, which they should be enjoying without having to worry about taking care of me or helping mom out." His family desperately wanted Bernie to live. Mesothelioma had interrupted their otherwise joyful lives and taken the life out of their husband and father.
Bernie had hoped to travel the United States with his wife, Mary, enjoying all the places he had seen while he was a truck driver. In late 1999 he said, "I don't think I am going to be able to do it." After a two year battle with mesothelioma, Bernie Chavers died on February 2, 2001. He was a very young 59 years old.
Mary later wrote, "it killed so much of my spirit to watch 'my man' dissipate so quickly. But I thank my dear Lord for our years together. We shared a good life at the very end." Thoughts of Bernie are never far from Mary's memories.