Survivor Insight Series | Suzanne P.

Stories from Survivors

Suzanne, or as she prefers “Sue”, joined our mesothelioma community by way of Facebook.

Through our interactions with her on the social media site, we learned about her losing her husband, Smoe, to mesothelioma, and how it has motivated her to spread awareness of the deadly disease.

She now spends time talking to students at high schools about asbestos and the deadly consequences of inhaling the toxic substance. Sue also decided to target commercial and residential construction courses where workers are more likely to come into contact with asbestos through occupational exposure. Her last name is being withheld over privacy concerns.

Read more about Sue’s journey with mesothelioma. We hope she inspires you as much as she inspired us.

What has been your personal experience with mesothelioma?

My husband Smoe had experienced a terrible chest cold last spring. He went to the doctor and was told there was a lot of ‘crud’ going around. After awhile he seemed to get over that. Then with the high humidity last summer, he started experiencing shortness of breath. By the end of July that had worsened. At the emergency room, the doctor asked us if we knew what mesothelioma was, or if my husband had ever worked around asbestos.

August 15th, 2011 we were told by a pulmonary doctor that it was confirmed mesothelioma after completed fluid and tissue biopsies. Smoe’s lung had collapsed, and the diaphragm had been invaded as well as having several other tumors in his lungs. Just 66 short days later on October 21, 2011 after a major radical surgery to remove the lining from his heart and lungs, debulking of tumors, and partial removal of the diaphragm, he died at home. He was 52 years old. Since his death, I have made it my mission to learn more about asbestos exposure safety procedures and try to make others aware of the dangers of this silent but deadly killer.

How has your mesothelioma experience changed you and your perspective on life?

It has made me so sad to know that this could have been prevented by the workplace. My take is that corporations would rather run the risk of exposing innocent hard working people (and their families) who make a low rate of pay, compared to paying for proper asbestos abatement and removal. A new goal in life for me is to do everything possible in the memory of my husband and to make others aware of the dangers and how to lessen their potential exposure to asbestos. It has been a very difficult seven months for me and my son. We have surrounded ourselves with precious memories made over the years with Smoe.

I try to take things one day at a time and remain positive, but I still have days that are difficult to get through at best. Life is a precious thing and instead of being negative about how this impacted my family, I am trying to establish memorials with Iowa City Hospice, and scholarship opportunities at the local high school in my husband’s memory.

Why are you working towards raising asbestos and mesothelioma awareness??

To honor my husband’s memory and hopefully prevent another wrongful death against a person being exposed to the dangers of asbestos. I have to feel there is a reason this happened to our family, and that I am responsible to pass along information to those whose lives can be saved with more understanding and awareness of asbestos dangers. Then Smoe’s death will not have been in vain.

Mesothelioma Victim

How are you trying to raise awareness?

Even though my husband had worked in the construction business since high school graduation in 1977, he was not aware that asbestos could kill him. He never received any training for asbestos handling or removal until the early 1990’s. I specifically asked him the day of his diagnosis what he knew and he said he knew it was ‘bad for you” but didn’t realize it would kill a person. This has led me to believe there is not enough education or awareness out there. Granted we all may have been exposed to low levels of asbestos if we have been in buildings or homes built prior to 1980 or so.

I am aiming to target high school and trade school students. If I can make one person aware of the seriousness of asbestos handling and exposure in the memory of my husband, then I will have achieved what I am setting out to do. Families of construction workers have no idea of the risks that are being brought home from this deadly mineral, and more people need to understand this. In the fall 2012, I will be making a series of presentations to the local high school shop, commercial and residential construction classes. I would be willing to speak anywhere that has a need for making people aware of asbestos exposure. It not only harms the worker, but the family is at greater risk for being diagnosed as well! I am not sure that most people are even aware of this.

Do you have any tips, advice, or words of encouragement for those dealing with mesothelioma?

This is a tough question to answer. Personally we did not have many options, but I would encourage you if you have been exposed, or think you have been exposed, to educate yourself. I believe the number one thing is to understand that asbestos should not be handled or disturbed at all unless it is a professional that is certified in the removal of asbestos. Typically, it will take a specialized mesothelioma doctor, so be prepared to travel to seek the best medical care options in treating your situation. Our local doctor said he had never seen this diagnosis before and he doubted he would see it again in his remaining years of practice.

What closing thoughts would you like to leave us with?

I am interested in hearing from other families and how they have dealt with the aftermath of mesothelioma. It is so difficult to find support groups that can really understand this type of diagnosis, and I am thankful for those connections I have made through Facebook and, it shows that our situation is not so unique. Makes me feel less alone.

We would like to thank Sue for sharing her story with us and the mesothelioma community and we hope it’s made an impact on you. Would you like to share your story? Give Sue some words of encouragement? Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook.

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