By Andrew RobbinsCSMS Magazine Staff WriterA committed group of volunteers gathered at Philadelphia’s Drexel University School of Public Health, March 30-April 1, 2007. They were there for three purposes. First, to launch our country’s first proclaimed National Asbestos Awareness Week (April 1-7, 2007). Second, to attend the third Annual Asbestos Disease Awareness Conference. Third, they were there for your health.The cosponsors for this event were Drexel University School of Public Health and the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat. Jordan Zevon, Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization’s (ADAO’s) National Spokesperson, welcomed attendees Friday evening by singing songs from his CD. Saturday renowned experts in environmental science, medicine, and end-of-life care humbly shared their knowledge. The conference ended Sunday with a solemn memorial service remembering those needlessly lost to asbestos.The conference was intense, educational, and hopeful. But, did we need such an event in a country where we banned asbestos in 1989? Yes, because the judicial process overturned the ‘asbestos ban’ in 1991! It is pure illusion that we are safe from this monstrous mineral. It permeates our daily lives.Most individuals asked to describe today’s typical mesothelioma patient would say he is a former tradesman now in his 70s or 80s. Reality check! Today’s average mesothelioma patient is a 51-year old female with non-specific or brought-home exposure. If the increasing number of legal advertisements about mesothelioma haven’t scared the wits out of you, if they haven’t made you ask, “Am I at risk?” – that fact should.The youngest mesothelioma patient treated by a physician attending the conference was a boy of nine. His infant’s crib sat under a vent containing asbestos. Accounts of adolescent sons and daughters, whose graduation or marriage won’t include Dad or Mom, could fill volumes. Several of those activist children were present. They are the “next generation” in the fight. Their eyes reflect both the wisdom and knowledge that comes from watching death and an unwavering determination to drive home the message of asbestos’ impact.Who hasn’t seen the movies “White Christmas” or “The Wizard of Oz”? The “snow” falling in both movies was actually asbestos. Acting aside, who would associate being a baker, a jeweler, an interior decorator, or a teacher with exposure risk for asbestos illness? Did you ever color with crayons as a child, or play with modeling clay? Have you ever walked over sidewalk grating and felt air blowing up from sub-surface tunnels? Occupations that pose asbestos risk today include both blue-collar trades and white-collar professions.In the US an estimated 80% of mesothelioma cases are underreported. When mesothelioma actually makes it to the death certificate it is only statistically counted if it appears on the first or second lines of “cause of death”. According to the World Health Organization, “Asbestos is the most important occupational carcinogen causing 54% of all deaths from occupational cancer.”Medical practitioners need to consider non-cancer diseases arising from asbestos exposure. Millions of commercial and residential structures contain Libby asbestos ore. Every physician taking a patient history should have the Libby Vermiculite Map (Places That Handled Asbestos Shipments) in the examining room. The patient’s health history is only complete when viewed in terms of this map and everywhere he/she has lived.When asbestos diseases are probable, order a complete pulmonary function test and no less than “64-slice” computed tomography (CT) scan. With a diagnosis of obstructive airway disease, the map is also useful in determining cause.In dealing with asbestos diseases, we cannot overlook their human side. Thus, speakers addressed social action, social policy, and emotional support issues. Oncology social workers can provide a wealth of information. Speakers stressed the importance of establishing a sense of rhythm and structure in your daily life. End-of-life issues of dependency, pain, and fear of abandonment are common among asbestos victims. Victims diagnosed with life-ending illnesses share a trauma component. They need to know it is okay to feel anger, cry, and question why they were cheated.” They may feel isolated but they are not alone. Millions of people share their sense of loss and violation, including the man who simply said, “I didn’t go to work to die.”If the patient desires an autopsy at death, address this issue with family members and medical facility staff in advance. Autopsies require preparation and planning.Although mesothelioma is normally fatal, there are reasons for hope. February 2007 a blood test called “MESOMARK” came to market. It will enable doctors to more accurately detect recurrence and monitor treatment of patients. Scientific hope abounds that this blood test may be a useful diagnostic tool in the future.For lung cancer, early diagnosis counts. If caught as a Stage 1 (contained) cancer, resection (surgical removal) provides a 10-year survival window 90% of the time.One of the goals of ADAO, a grassroots effort, is to support research aimed at early detection, prevention, and a cure. Each volunteer carries, either on their bodies or in their hearts, scars of valiantly fighting this invisible foe. Asbestos exposures can occur at home, school, place of employment, and place of recreational activity. If we hope to break the asbestos cycle of pain, heartbreak, suffering, and loss that has plagued the world for hundreds of years, we must dedicate ourselves to supporting the ADAO mission.ADAO is a registered nonprofit organization staffed by dedicated, unpaid volunteers from every state. They support ADAO because it is the right thing to do. They firmly believe in the motto, “If not me, who? If not now, when?” They work unselfishly to protect you and your family. For your charitable contributions, ADAO deserves thoughtful consideration. www.AsbestosDiseaseAwareness.orgReserve time in your life to fight for your life. Plan to be in Detroit, Michigan at the fourth Annual Asbestos Awareness Conference-Spring 2008. Medical personnel, community planners, safety personnel, and environmental monitors will benefit by attending. Transboundary pollution is a valid health concern; thus, our global neighbors are encouraged to participate.Mark your calendar now!Also read the other articles by Andrew on the “Health and Medicine” section.Note: Andrew Robbins is the author of “It Took My Breath Away: One Man’s Experience May Save Your Life.”
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