Congress first declared September 26 National Mesothelioma Awareness Day in 2010.
This year, Virginia and West Virginia joined a group of 12 states and 34 cities that formally recognize the day. Louisiana, also decided to recognize Mesothelioma Awareness Day, but in October.
Regardless of when and where it is observed, Mesothelioma Awareness Day serves an important purpose yearlong and nationwide: It increases both awareness of the disease and funding for medical research.
Raising Awareness About Treatment in West Virginia
Richard Owen Dorsey worked on asbestos-laced water pipes while working for Union Carbide and the water company. His daughter, Missy Dorsey Bowles, decided to raise money for research after he died from the disease in 2008. She began by organizing a “walk/gospel sing/lunch” fundraiser in her community that raised $15,000.
This year marked the third annual ROD’s Benefit for Meso, which raised nearly $20,000.
Thanks to the Dorsey family’s efforts, it’s marks the first time West Virginia observed Mesothelioma Awareness Day.
The West Virginia Legislature adopted the resolution recognizing Mesothelioma Awareness Day in March. Resolutions aren’t laws, but governments use them to support a policy or cause. West Virginia’s resolution expressed support for the need to develop effective treatments. Having a statewide resolution can help boost fundraising by advocates like the Dorsey family and the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation.
Encouraging Medical Screening in Louisiana
Louisiana has a special reason for observing Mesothelioma Day on October 17 rather than September 26. It chose the date in memory of longtime Terrebonne Parish tax assessor Gene Bonvillain.
Bonvillain’s family founded the Gene Bonvillain Pericardial Mesothelioma Research Fund after he died without knowing that that he had pericardial mesothelioma. He thought he had a respiratory infection and went to the doctor in September 2011. He then spent 5-6 weeks going back and forth to the hospital for tests, but no one knew what was wrong.
He died in November after surgery to remove thickened lining around his heart. His family didn’t find out he had pericardial cancer until they received the autopsy results two months later. They thought he had a heart problem.
In April, the Terrebonne Parish Council adopted a resolution designating Bonvillain’s birthday as Mesothelioma Awareness Day. It did so to raise awareness about the need to have medical evaluations if you’ve been exposed to asbestos.
The council also hoped to encourage the Louisiana’s governor and legislature to do the same. And it succeeded.
Louisiana adopted a statewide resolution in May to encourage education and awareness and to honor Louisianans, like Bonvillain, who’ve been affected by the disease. The resolution may have helped raise awareness and convince state legislators to vote down a law to benefit asbestos defendants later that month.
The resolution also contained a special acknowledgement for the Bonvillain family.
Funding Cancer Research in Virginia
Perhaps the year’s most far-reaching example of Mesothelioma Awareness Day’s potential impact occurred in Virginia. In April, the state’s governor signed a proclamation declaring September 26 Mesothelioma Awareness Day.
That day, he also signed multiple bills to help cancer patients, including legislation to fund cancer research at two Virginia universities and to require the same level of insurance coverage for oral and IV chemotherapy drugs. Cancer patient advocates, including representatives from the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation, were at the ceremony to promote further awareness advocacy.
You can also help promote mesothelioma awareness in 2013. Contact the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation to find out how you can get involved and bring Mesothelioma Awareness Day to your community. Also visit our Patient Advocacy Blog for information on how you can help increase funding for research.