One Man’s Story about Mesothelioma
By Virgil Anderson
I’m sure you have heard the phrase “When life gives you lemons”. In my situation it was a little more dramatic than sour taste in my mouth…I was hit by a bomb shell. Throughout life, many of us are handed difficult situations. I think what defines us in the end is how to handle these situations. Just over a year ago, I found myself struggling financially and had to move in with my sister. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, I learned that I was now facing the battle of my life.
Up until about a year ago, I was always very active. I was born and raised by a hard working family in Williamson, West Virginia. My father, a coal miner, passed away when I was 8 years old. I worked in building demolition and excavating since high school. This required the physical tear out, and hands-on removal of walls, ceilings, attics, heating systems and cooling systems. I also worked as an auto mechanic. I’ve repaired or replaced just about everything you can think of in many types of vehicles.
One day I woke up and found myself fighting a stubborn dry cough. I didn’t really think anything of it until it started getting worse and I struggled to walk to my mailbox. Even when I was resting, It seemed like I could just not catch my breath. Of course this had me a little annoyed. Now I’m thinking I have to go to the doctor and take time off from work. Many people enjoy the thought of taking a few sick days, but that’s not me. I like to keep moving, otherwise I feel like I’m not accomplishing anything.
Like so many other people, I did not enroll in Obamacare so I had no medical insurance. My only option was to check myself into the local ER. After my examination, I was diagnosed with pneumonia and prescribed antibiotics. After a couple weeks, my symptoms were the same, if not worse. That’s when they decided to do a PET scan of my chest. Although they initially thought I had pneumonia, follow-up X-rays and the PET scan showed that the water was accumulating on the outside of my lung (ie pleural effusion). It was highly unusual for a 50 year old patient to have this, so they tested the fluid to see if there were any cancer cells. When they tested the sample I was relieved to hear that they didn’t find any cancer cells. A few weeks later they did a biopsy to confirm that I was cancer free. When the results of the pathology came back, I was sitting there, impatiently waiting for him to just tell me I need a different prescription or something. Unfortunately, that’s not what he said. Using a bunch of medical terms and details of the testing process he finally let it out “I don’t know any other way to say this but I’ve got some bad news”. He told me it was mesothelioma and I had no idea what that meant. Once I started Googling the term… I realized how bad it was.
I had never thought that one day I’d hear the words “you have cancer”, especially mesothelioma, which is a cancer caused by asbestos. It usually affects people in their late 60 or 70’s. Back to the bombshell… My heart sunk. I couldn’t believe it. All I could think of was how? Why me? How can someone like myself, so young and physically active their whole life, have cancer? I was told I needed immediate medical attention. I was angry, sad, confused. I took it upon myself to figure out how and where my exposure came from. I found a few websites on the internet that are focused on mesothelioma. One of them, specifically Mesothelioma.net had a great deal of information. I couldn’t believe how many products contained asbestos: concrete, insulation, bricks, floor tiles, ceiling tiles, and many automotive parts. This explained everything.
For the next few weeks I was in limbo because I was trying to get into an oncologist specialist who treated mesothelioma but they were waiting until I could get SS disability insurance. Eventually I realized waiting for insurance and social security disability was not happening fast enough. Fortunately, I was able to find help at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda Maryland.
I’ve become extremely limited in my activities. I can no longer work and mostly live off of social security disability. I’m getting around but because of the fluid buildup in my lungs, I have to be careful about over exerting myself. I have a portable oxygen tank which gives me some mobility.
I am unable to do the things I used to do. But at least I’m alive. It isn’t easy adjusting to this new lifestyle when you’ve been so active your entire life. Some things are beyond our control and feeling outraged about life’s injustices is completely normal, but it won’t change anything in the long run. Going into a downward spiral of depression won’t do any good either. I have to stay positive and enjoy what I have left to live for. I choose to enjoy and cherish the time I have left with family and friends. I think many people take that for granted.