Vida Hargrett has a forum now — and she plans to use it.
Hargrett, 30, has qualified for the 2016 Mrs. Florida International Pageant, hoping to utilize that platform to raise awareness for mesothelioma and the growing move to ban asbestos.
Her goals are lofty.
“I’m not afraid to speak up — and speak out,” Hargrett said from her home in South Florida. “And this is a cause worth fighting for. I’ll take this battle around the world if I can.”
Hargrett is the daughter-in-law of peritoneal mesothelioma survivor Patricia Hargrett, who has battled the asbestos-related cancer since October 2012. Her diagnosis stunned the family, but it also energized Vida’s conviction to bring awareness to the disease.
“When she was first diagnosed, I knew nothing about mesothelioma. I couldn’t even pronounce the word,” she said. “But it lit a fire under me. And I realized this is a chance to really make a difference in the world. It was an emotion I had never felt before.”
The Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO) has partnered with her, making Hargrett the group’s Florida representative. She has been traveling the state, meeting with anyone who will listen to her speak about mesothelioma.
Her enthusiasm is contagious.
“It’s all about raising awareness and educating people about mesothelioma,” she said. “You just don’t hear enough about it. I guess not enough lives have been taken for this disease to get the attention it should.”
Hargrett spoke about mesothelioma at the state’s capital in Tallahassee at the urging of legislators. She met with former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist about his stance against asbestos.
As part of her plan to raise awareness, she convinced the Miami Heat to hold its first mesothelioma charity event last spring, and now she’s working to get the Miami Dolphins and the Orlando Magic on board.
Hargrett was given a VIP tour of the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center in Miami and met with doctors, drumming up interest in developing a mesothelioma program there. She also met with the mayor of nearby Pompano Beach, urging him to hold a mesothelioma awareness event.
She says the support from the ADAO and the public speaking opportunities from the Mrs. United States Pageant (in 2014) and the upcoming Mrs. International Pageant have brought considerable attention to this disease.
“These pageants open a lot of doors and allow you to advocate for good causes. And any opportunity to say and explain mesothelioma is an opportunity to save lives,” Hargrett said. “So many people out there still are oblivious to what this is. I want to help change that.”
Her mesothelioma platform appears on her website as the Persist Until Something Happens (PUSH) campaign. It’s a mission that complements her energetic, optimistic nature — she rarely stops.
“I’m immensely proud of Vida and what she is doing,” said Linda Reinstein, president of ADAO. “When her mother-in-law was diagnosed, Vida saw what could and should be done to raise awareness with mesothelioma and asbestos. Our team of volunteers has grown exponentially, moving us closer to ending the asbestos manmade disaster.”
Hargrett is a mental health therapist and mother of two young children. She is married to Chrisdon Hargrett, a sprinter who reached the 2008 U.S. Olympic Track and Field trials.
She works with the American Heart Association and also was part of the first Red Nose Day in the U.S., a humorous, national fundraising effort to fight children’s poverty. She speaks out, and she speaks often.
She has been involved with pageants since high school, and regularly talks with teens about stepping outside their comfort zone to reach their full potential.
Initially stunned by the diagnosis of her mother-in-law, an elementary school teacher for 25 years, she turned the cancer diagnosis into a rallying point for the family.
“She has been amazing through it all,” Vida said. “She was always so strong before, and that attitude didn’t change. She is an inspiration.”
The original goal was just raising awareness to mesothelioma. Today, it is about supporting research for new therapies, earlier detection, finding a cure, and protecting civil rights of asbestos victims. Her plate is full.
A major goal is helping ADAO convince Congress to pass a law that would ban all asbestos products, allowing the United States to join more than 50 other countries that already have taken that step.
“That would be the home run to hit, getting asbestos banned in this country,” she said. “Then we could take that goal around the world, and really make a difference. We have to get busy.”