Pat Dyhrman and Diana Stewart, who had never met, each traveled 3,000 miles to discover they lived just a few miles apart in Federal Way, Wash. They both had lost a husband to pleural mesothelioma, and both had a burning desire to help others.
Mesothelioma may have torn apart their idyllic lives, but it also brought them together with a common goal, resulting in the July 4 Miles for Meso WA Memorial 5k Run/Walk.
They are hoping to attract more than 300 participants and raise another $15,000 this year for mesothelioma research, when the second annual event begins Thursday morning at the Federal Way Community Center.
“July 4th is a patriotic day for everyone,” Dyhrman told Asbestos.com. “For us, it’s additionally emotional. It brings back a lot of memories.”
Honoring Victims of Mesothelioma
Dyhrman and Stewart, along with Patricia Hatley, another Federal Way resident whose husband also died from mesothelioma, organized the event to raise awareness around the state and to honor victims throughout Washington.
Dyhrman and Stewart met for the first time at the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation (MARF) annual meeting in Washington, D.C., in 2009, only a short time after their husbands had died. They had traveled across the country to help lobby Congress to allocate more federal money for mesothelioma research.
Not only were they neighbors back in Federal Way, but their families had suffered separately through the agony of a mesothelioma diagnosis, struggling with many of the same issues.
Mesothelioma, which is caused by exposure to asbestos, is diagnosed in only 3,000 Americans each year. There is no cure, and there is a lengthy latency period between first exposure and cancer symptoms. Dyhrman believes her husband was exposed during a summer job in college almost 40 years before he was diagnosed.
“We had never met,” Dyhrman said. “Our husbands didn’t know each other, either, but we just started talking at the meeting. It was kind of amazing. We discovered they had used some of the same doctors. We had some of the same friends.
“That’s when we started talking about what we could do locally to help. Obviously, we had some things in common.”
Dick Dyhrman was a geologist with Weyerhaeuser Company. Bob Stewart was a coach and teacher at Federal Way High School. Bud Hatley, who died two years before, was the athletic director at Federal Way High School. Mr. Stewart and Mr. Hatley both were in the Federal Way School District Hall of Fame. All three were well known in the community, and all three were former athletes.
“We had never been involved with running, and we considered other fundraisers, but organizing a run just made sense to us,” Dyhrman said. “The men were athletes. One of our friends told us, ‘My gosh, you can’t do something like that.’ But the support we’ve received has been unbelievable in our community. Everyone gets pretty excited about it.”
Shipyard Industry Wreaks Havoc
Federal Way, which is located between Seattle and Tacoma, borders the Puget Sound. Because of the surrounding shipyard industry, which once was loaded with asbestos products, there is a higher-than-normal rate of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases in Federal Way.
Impressed by the work of the three women, Federal Way Mayor Skip Priest issued a proclamation last fall that the city officially was recognizing National Mesothelioma Awareness Day on Sept. 26. The mayor will be part of a ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday.
Miles for Meso races previously have been held in Florida, Virginia, Indiana, Missouri and New York, but Federal Way in 2012 became the first host on the West Coast.
Hatley had moved to Portland to be closer to her children, but she is moving back now to Federal Way. Dyhrman and Stewart both have grown children who are living in other parts of the country.
The three women have become close friends, sharing more than the July 4 mesothelioma fundraiser they organized and hope to continue for many years. The money they raise goes to MARF for research.
“We just felt like we had to do something,” Dyhrman said. “It’s such a devastating disease and still so little really known about it. We just wanted to help in any way we could.”