Each year 700 Australians are diagnosed with mesothelioma, an aggressive cancer caused by asbestos, to which there is no cure. Asbestos is in one out of every three homes in Queensland, and victims are given 10 months to live. That’s a mere 300-day life expectancy, from a disease occurring after preventable exposure.
In August 2005, Heather Von St. James gave birth to her first child Lily Rose. Despite feeling ecstatic, Heather said “she just felt so crappy. By mid october I felt like a truck had parked on my chest and I couldn't breathe.”
Three months later Heather was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma, a cancer that impairs lung function as a result of the thickening of the membrane that lines the inner surface of the chest wall, known as the pleura.
As a young girl, Heather’s father worked in construction. “He would come home from work covered in dust, his jacket would be white, crusty,” she said. “That’s how my exposure happened - my dad worked with asbestos.”
With the help from a number of doctors, Heather was able to make a serious fight against the cancer. And following surgery and chemotherapy, she won.
As a Mesothelioma survivor, Heather now works as a ‘Voice for the Victims’ of asbestos, by both inspiring and educating asbestos victims, as well as the general public. Her idea is clear. By sharing a simple message about the threat of asbestos exposure, a real difference can be made in reducing the number of deaths from preventable exposure.
Despite Heathers' story being from America, it echos similar lessons for an Australian context. Australia was previously one of the biggest users of asbestos, and consequently has one of the highest rates of Mesothelioma, which is estimated as yet to peak.
To find out more about this preventable disease, visit the Queensland Government Asbestos page ,http://www.deir.qld.gov.au/asbestos/, or the Australian Mesothelioma Registry here http://www.mesothelioma-australia.com/home-page.aspx.
To read more about Heather’s story, visit Dying to be Heard here http://www.mesothelioma.com/heather/awareness/#.UmS-At3Ku_H.
Or watch her Video here. http://www.mesothelioma.com/heather/#.UmnL_ZQ-LIc