Note: Virgil Anderson is alive today and receiving life-saving treatment because he found an organization that provided him with the information and support he needed. As we all share what we learn from our journeys with cancer, whether ours or another’s, we can give each other more options and genuine hope. Thank you, Virgil, for sharing this with us.
My story of illness and cancer is similar to the struggles of others: I was diagnosed at 50 with the devastating type of cancer called mesothelioma. I am now very sick and fighting for treatment and for my life. I am limited and unable to enjoy the activities I once did. Just breathing is difficult for me now, and I can blame all this on exposure to asbestos.
My message is an important one, and I want to educate people about the risks of exposure to asbestos. I want other people to know that prevention is important with mesothelioma and that early detection and diagnosis are crucial for effective treatment. Avoid asbestos, but if you have been exposed, get diagnosed and treated as soon as possible.
I grew up in the small town of Williamson, W.Va., and my story with asbestos began in high school. I worked in demolition, taking down buildings with tools and with my own hands. It was hard work and I was exposed to asbestos-laden dust. Disrupting asbestos in older buildings is one of the top ways people are exposed to asbestos fibers.
After that job I moved on to others, including working on cars. I tore out and replaced hood liners and made repairs to cars, including working with clutches and brakes. All of these parts contained asbestos. Without knowing the dangers or how to protect myself, I was again exposed to asbestos fibers.
Asbestos was once used extensively in so many applications, especially in the construction of buildings. The real dangers of inhaling or accidentally consuming this mineral were not known until the 1970s when regulations were finally put into place. Because I never knew the risks, I worked for years around asbestos and now I have mesothelioma.
I am now living with the consequences, as are many other older Americans. Mesothelioma sneaks up on you many years after asbestos exposure. I now have a hard time breathing and even walking. I spend much of my time in bed, unable to do normal daily tasks. My symptoms include chest pain, a terrible cough, and shortness of breath.
Treatment is limited for me. Treatment for mesothelioma is already difficult, but my cancer has spread to the lymph nodes so surgery is not an option. I am hoping to undergo chemotherapy, which may shrink the tumors and bring me some relief, but a cure for this disease just isn’t possible.
I hope that by sharing my story as far and as wide as I can that I will reach people who may still be able to take steps to prevent mesothelioma or to get screened and treated early. If there is any chance you think you may have been exposed to asbestos, do not wait to talk to your doctor about it. Monitor yourself for symptoms and get screening tests to catch this terrible disease early. My story should help others avoid a similar fate.