Reflecting on Losing My Father to Mesothelioma

Daughter with her father looking at the sunset

I lost my father when I was 14 years old. That was a tough pill to swallow. To say that I endured his battle with mesothelioma alongside him would be a gross understatement.

My entire family endured his illness. We were immersed in taking care of him, struggling to come to grips with reality.

I remember some nights I would retreat to my bedroom and lock the door. I would turn my stereo up to stifle the sound of my weeping. It was hard. There were times when I truly thought it was more than I could bear.

The days pass by, whether you want them to or not.

Taking Time to Reflect

This year marks 22 years since my father passed. Things have changed so much for me. I am a wife and mother now, and I will graduate with my second degree in March.

My eyes fill with tears, and my heart swells with pride as I think of how my father would feel if he could see me now.

I wish things had been different. I wish he’d never worked his life away at a paper mill. I wish he’d never gotten sick with mesothelioma. I think of all the things I would have done differently if given the chance. His illness has become such a part of me in my adult life.

I have even molded my career path differently because of his illness. When I was a little girl, I used to tell my father that when I grew up, I’d become a journalist, marry Tom Selleck and have five boys. Wow, I was way off.

I still love to write, but I do it more for pleasure than financial gain. I didn’t marry Tom Selleck, but I did marry a horse wrangler from southeastern Kentucky. I have five beautiful children, two girls and a boy biologically and two girls that I’ve been blessed with through marriage.

Finding My Calling

Instead of journalism, I chose psychology. My father’s struggle with mesothelioma led me into a desire to counsel people with serious illnesses, like mesothelioma, and their families.

It wasn’t until my late-20s that I truly came to grips with losing my father. I’m sure I could have benefitted from counseling through the period of grief, although I didn’t recognize the need until I began to study psychology. Time and education have opened my eyes to many of the tough realities brought on by asbestos.

I now realize my true calling in life is to tell people about my experiences and about the dangers of asbestos exposure.

The struggles my family endured are similar to the struggles families still deal with today. While medical advances have changed the outlook for many patients, so many factors remain the same.

Speaking Out for Change

The paper mill where my father worked was demolished shortly after he died. I wish I could say the city tore it down because so many men were diagnosed with mesothelioma. Sadly, that wasn’t the case.

The paper mill was torn down in the name of progress. The company decided to tuck tail and run rather than face the families left behind because of its carelessness and deceit.

My father would breathe a sigh of relief to know the company no longer issues gloves made from asbestos to its unknowing employees.

Today, it is still legal in the U.S. to use asbestos. People continue to be exposed to the deadly mineral at work, school and even in their homes.

I hope within my lifetime we will see legislation that protects families from asbestos. I hope we see tremendous medical breakthroughs that lead to a cure for all cancers, including mesothelioma. I hope somehow my contribution to the world makes someone else’s struggle with mesothelioma a little less bitter.

As my father’s daughter, I feel it is my duty to speak out. I won’t let grief silence me.

Perhaps someone needs to hear what I have to say. Perhaps they just need to know there are others going through the same struggles and facing the same fears. I think my father would have wanted me to advocate on his behalf.

Celebrating My Father

Every autumn used to bring the sadness and struggle of grief to the forefront of my mind. I still have my days, but for the most part, I am done crying. Rather than cry “woe is me,” I have found something more constructive to do with my time.

I choose to celebrate my father’s life rather than mourn his death. I make it my business to ensure my father’s grandchildren know him. Through pictures and my memories, my kids have a pretty accurate picture of the man they never got to meet.

I cannot imagine a man ever being a better father than my dad. If I can spare just one person undue heartbreak, it will all be worth it. I feel like I owe the world’s greatest dad at least that much.

Melanie is currently pursuing a Master's degree at the University of the Cumberlands. She has a Bachelor of Science in psychology from the University of Phoenix. Her father was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 1992. She is dedicated to writing about her unique experience with the rare disease.

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