Healthy Lungs

“All men think all men mortal but themselves.” – Edward Young

Forever Young by Italian photographer Francesco Romoli

Forever Young by Italian photographer Francesco Romoli

Emily Walsh, Community Outreach Director for the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance, contacted me after she came across Rite2Run and asked if I’d be willing to help spread the word about a cause she is passionate about. Her friend and fellow-mom, Heather, is an eight-year mesothelioma survivor, a completely preventable cancer caused only by asbestos exposure. At the time of diagnosis, Heather had just given birth and was told she only had fifteen months to live. Since then, she’s adopted a new outlook on preventative health and made it her mission to increase asbestos awareness.

The reason Emily’s email resonated with me is because I spent my formative years working in a shipyard, an environment with one of the highest concentrations of asbestos. Many of my friends died of mesothelioma; in fact, I was at a funeral for my former boss last week. Working in such an unhealthy environment is one of the reasons I began endurance running at such a young age, before marathons became a fad. I considered running long distances as a way to clean out my lungs out at the end of a workshift. I’ll be sixty this summer and don’t plan to stop until I drop.

Beyond my personal history, I was out to dinner with my buddy Billy recently and was bending his ear about this nagging hip injury I’ve been trying to rehab. I’m going on and on about how I haven’t run since December, and what a drag it is both physically and mentally. Billy listened patiently and said, “Man, that sucks.” He meant it, but I felt like an idiot. Billy is in the fight of his life with small cell lung cancer. We all get wake-up calls in life, and my rant to Billy was mine.

When people hear lung cancer, I think it’s common for them to get the image of someone who lives and unhealthy lifestyle, perhaps a heavy smoker. Nothing could be further from the truth in Billy’s case. Billy was diagnosed with lung cancer the week after we cycled ninety miles from Philadelphia to Wildwood, New Jersey. We hiked portions of the Appalachian Trail together at Hawk Mountain and the Delaware Water Gap. He is a triathlete, outdoorsman and kayaker.

Emily shared the following facts everyone should know about asbestos exposure and mesothelioma:

–   Asbestos is still not banned in the United States? Roughly 30 million pounds are used each year.

–   More than 30 years after its peak use, asbestos exposure is still the NUMBER ONE cause of occupational cancer in the United States.

–   Asbestos can still be found in many homes, schools, and commercial and industrial buildings.

–   Navy veterans and shipyard workers are at the greatest risk of developing mesothelioma as asbestos was widely used on Naval ships and in shipyards.

–   Asbestos fibers are small enough to be invisible to the naked eye.

–   Asbestos was once used in more than 30,000 consumer products including household items such as toasters and hair dryers, some of which may still be in use.

–   NO AMOUNT of asbestos exposure is safe.

To read more about Heather’s story: mesothelioma.com/heather/awareness. Stay healthy, my friends!

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About Jim Brennan

Jim is a Philadelphia-based writer, author, poet and editor for the Schuylkill Valley Journal.
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12 Responses to Healthy Lungs

  1. jeffthomsan1 says:

    That was sad! Good wishes for both. I don’t know why but life is so uncertain these days. You cannot ensure a healthy body by following some healthy habit because there is so much around us that influences us ( like pollution) but we have no control over it. What kind of world are we extending for our kids, who are born with severe diseases like diabetes and heart problems! Sad very sad!

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    • Jim Brennan says:

      Yes, but there is always hope. I read an interview with Pete Seeger yesterday and he said the same thing about the environment, but his pessimism is tempered by the hope of all of the good people in the world who work to improve our lives. Never lose hope!
      jim

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  2. Beth says:

    Meso and small cell lung cancer, horrible diseases. Best wishes to Heather and Billy.

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  3. Wow – I didn’t realise that asbestos was still that common… that’s pretty shocking given that we (now) know full well how dangerous and unhealthy it is. I’m sorry for all your losses to the same, terrible disease. That’s just totally wrong, given that it’s so preventable. =( Thank you for sharing this, Jim.

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  4. Jim,
    I am shocked that asbestos is not banned in the US. How can people sue these companies for exposure to a legal substance? I guess lead isn’t illegal either.
    I wonder what the most common ways the rest of us are exposed to asbestos are?
    Andy

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    • Jim Brennan says:

      Mostly industrial environments, but it is found in old buildings including schools. It used to be an ingredient in plaster, so old houses have it ingrained in the plaster. There is no risk of exposure unless it’s gouged. Awareness is key to avoiding exposure.

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  5. LB says:

    Jim, I trained myself to ask about environmental exposure first when a patient tells me that a loved one has lung cancer. You are right … the assumption that is all about smoking, and I used to assume it too.
    Thank you for this post!
    You’ve posted about Billy before, right?

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  6. Let us never forget that we are always at risk of cancer (or something just as bad) even if we try to have a perfect lifestyle…Because we are human.

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