Published On: 9.26.2014 Charlotte, NC

Mesothelioma Awareness Day

By Robert Dill of Charles G. Monnett III & Associates


What to know about this devastating cancer?

You’ve likely seen the commercials for lawyers who can help in the wake of a diagnosis with mesothelioma. But what is exactly is this rare, deadly diseas?

Mesothelioma is a cancer that occurs in the lining of the mesothelium, a layer around the lungs and organs in the abdomen. It’s a sarcoma, which means it’s a cancer of the lining, not a carcinoma, which is a cancer of connective tissue. The majority of patients live about one year post-diagnosis.

“This type of diagnosis is devastating,” said Dr. Lee Krug, the deputy chief of Thoracic Oncology at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and a mesothelioma specialist.

Mesothelioma is extremely rare – 100-fold less common than lung cancer, according to Krug – which makes studying it and researching treatment options difficult. There’s not even a screening test for it.

But there is clinical research happening in the field now and “we gotta keep hoping those studies show positive results,” Krug added.

And Mesothelioma Awareness Day, September 26th, seeks to raise people’s awareness about this dreadful illness.

What we know so far: Exposure to asbestos has been known to cause mesothelioma and it takes 20 to 40 years for affected cells to turn cancerous. But we don’t know just how much exposure it takes and if other factors – genetic or environmental – are involved.

Heather Von St. James, 45, of Minneapolis, didn’t work in an environment laden with asbestos. But her father did – he worked in mining – and that’s how she thinks she came down with disease. Her case is unusual because the cancer usually strikes older men, especially veterans, though women are the fasting-growing group of patients.

Von St. James started feeling unwell shortly after giving birth.

“I started to get really tired – more than ‘new mom tired.'” She said she felt “bone-weary.”

She decided to see her doctor after she couldn’t make it up the steps with her laundry – needing to stop halfway – and then passing out when she finally did make it to the top.

“That scared me enough to know something was seriously wrong,” she said. Her doctor did a chest x-ray and, like the doctors told her after she gave birth, said she was slightly anemic. He sent her home with iron supplements.

But Von St. James came back a week later, still unwell. The doctor ordered another chest x-ray after suspecting a rare heart virus that women can get after giving birth. This time, he saw fluid pooling in her lung.

Von St. James was sent to the hospital to have her fluid drained. But when the doctor drew it out, he said the color – a murky brown – was unusual. That’s when she really started to worry.

“That’s the equivalent of a hairdresser going ‘oops,'” Von St. James said. A biopsy was done and sent to the Mayo Clinic for a second opinion. The diagnosis came back as mesothelioma.

Her treatment options were pretty scant: do nothing and live another year, do chemo and radiation and live five years, or risk everything on a new treatment in Boston that could extend her life 10 or more years.

The choice, for the family, was easy. They shipped off to Boston.

In 2006, Von St. James had her left lung, left half of her diaphragm and the lining of her heart removed. Eight years later, she’s still alive and doing well.

“I’m living and really enjoying life, and doing everything I can to raise awareness of the disease because it’s pitifully underfunded,” she said.

Von St. James said she lives her life “in six-month increments” because “things can change in the blink of an eye.” She currently blogs for

To reduce your risk of acquiring mesothelioma, Von St. James and Krug recommend doing research on your home if you’re about to do construction. Homes built before 1980, for example, could have asbestos, and it’s especially prevalent in popcorn ceiling tile. You’re fine if it’s there but you’re not doing construction, Krug said. If you do find asbestos in your home before undertaking construction, have a professional safely remove it.

Though not much can be done to ward off the cancer, you can still help with discovering a cure.

“The key is really to encourage people’s awareness and encourage them to help support research,” Krug said. “And hopefully we’ll find some better treatments.”

We Can Help

The experienced attorneys at Charles G. Monnett III & Associates provide free initial consultations, support and assistance in finding resources to help you and your family deal with serious injuries caused by the negligence of others. We can also help you pursue a legal action. If you or your family would like more information about your legal options and determine whether you have a claim, call our office today at 704.376.1911 or toll-free 800.977.3077…. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.