Welcome to part one of our five-part blog series: The Mesothelioma Journey. Follow along each week as we recreate the mesothelioma journey of Allen, a 65-year-old from Corpus Christi, Texas. We follow Allen’s journey from the first contact with asbestos to life after treatment.
First Question After a Diagnosis: “How Did I Get Mesothelioma?”
The answer is asbestos exposure. Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer caused by asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral. The serious disease can affect the lungs, thoracic cavity, or abdomen. Asbestos exposure happens at work, at home, or in the military. Some patients were exposed via secondary exposure after coming into contact with someone who’s been around it. This can happen when the mineral settles into clothes, hair, or skin.
Asbestos is a strong and heat resistant material manufactured into insulation, building materials, care breaks, and fire retardants among an abundance of other materials. Structures built between the 1930s and the 1980s incorporated large amounts of the toxin. These structures included homes, workplaces, schools, and military buildings.
As Allen learns in part three of this series, diagnosing mesothelioma can be difficult.
First Contact With Asbestos – Allen’s Mesothelioma Journey Begins
Allen’s mesothelioma journey began when he joined the US Navy in 1984 at the age of 22. He served as an electrician’s mate aboard two different Navy vessels until his retirement in 1992. During his eight-year service in the military, Allen worked near crumbling asbestos insulation.
The United States military used excessive amounts of products that contained the toxin. Each branch of the military used it in weapons, tools, barracks, and other property. However, the Navy was the largest consumer of asbestos-containing products.
The Navy became extremely reliant on asbestos for fire prevention onboard ships and submarines. Pipes, motors, flooring walls, boiler rooms, engine rooms, mess halls, sleeping quarters, and weapons storage areas all contained asbestos insulation.
Asbestos products lined Navy ships from bow to stern. The combination of poor ventilation and high amounts of asbestos use put thousands of servicemen and women at risk. Navy jobs that involved high amounts of exposure include boiler technicians, enginemen, machinists, pipefitters, shipbuilders, repair and maintenance technicians, and electricians.
Asbestos use by the Navy was rampant for most of Allen’s time in the service. As an electrician, Allen came into close contact when he operated and repaired marine electrical systems. For eight years, he breathed in cancerous asbestos fibers. The VA can help you find a healthcare facility near you.
Exposure Continues Throughout Allen’s Career
After retiring from the Navy, Allen’s love for ships and specialized skills in the electric field led him to work as an electrician for a shipyard along Texas’s Gulf Coast. Allen spent the next 30 years working on electrical wires on ships. The first part of his mesothelioma journey continues as he remains in contact with asbestos.
Electrical work has a long history of asbestos exposure. When working in occupations in the electrical field, there are many points of exposure. Allen’s first point of contact with the toxin occurred while he was in the Navy, but continued exposure into his electrical career. The chances of getting mesothelioma from asbestos exposure increase the more someone comes into contact with it.
Shipyards contained heavy amounts of the carcinogen because of the heavy role it played to construct and repair ships. While the new production of ships did not contain asbestos at the time Allen worked at the shipyard, he often came into contact when working on ships built before the 1980s. Allen often came home wearing clothing that contained attached asbestos fibers, resulting in secondary exposure to his family.
The Damage Is Done – Allen’s Mesothelioma Journey Progresses
After turning 62, Allen retired from his long and fulfilling career in 2018. Today, Allen remains active in his free time by enjoying fishing, taking care of his lawn, and spending time with his family. Although Allen appears happy and healthy, the damage has been done.
Exposure throughout his 40-year career caused Allen to inhale tiny asbestos fibers and become lodged into the tissue along the lining of his chest, called the mesothelium. The fibers slowly began to irritate the mesothelium, causing damage and inflammation. While he doesn’t know it now, Allen needs to begin his mesothelioma treatment plan as soon as possible.
It’s been decades since Allen first came into contact with asbestos. For years, he hasn’t experienced any symptoms of mesothelioma. Recently, however, Allen began experiencing chest pain, breathing difficulty, and a painful cough. He mistakes these symptoms for a case of pneumonia and continues with his otherwise healthy life.
Continue following Allen’s story next week as we discuss Part two of the Mesothelioma Journey: Symptoms.