This is part of a blog series comprised of live posts from the International Symposium on Malignant Mesothelioma, held March 2-March 4, 2015 in Bethesda, MD. The event was organized by the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation, and co-hosted with the National Cancer Institute.
The dry, hacking cough. Worsening pleural thickening. He couldn’t breathe. The years went on.
Now, he had new issues. He couldn’t swallow. He was losing his appetite. When he would cough, he would bring up blood.
Diane Blackburn’s father had a biopsy, and thankfully, the surgeon said it was non-malignant. But still, her father was losing tremendous amounts of weight. He had an odd, ashy grey color. Her family knew they had to investigate further. They decided he should have a CT scan and found that he had 2” nodule near his spine.
“That was the day my family changed. We found out my father had mesothelioma,” Blackburn says. Blackburn’s father was a pipefitter, and it was often “snowing asbestos” where he worked. His exposure over the years was obvious.
As she and her sister sat down to tell their father the news, they waited for his reaction. It was an experience Blackburn will never forget.
“The only question this man had was ‘Is it the asbestos cancer?’ And we had to say yes.”
For her family, it was incredibly difficult. They now had to tell her dad that his life had a limit. For the next 16 months, the Blackburn family relentlessly pursued treatment, traveling to Chicago, Columbus, and Pittsburgh to seek help.
Then, one day, Blackburn returned home to find her father crying on the couch. “I can’t do this anymore,” he said. Hospice was called and he died the day before Thanksgiving in 2005.
After her father’s death, Blackburn still felt committed to the cause. During her father’s career, she remembers him saying that people should have health screenings. But he and his coworkers were relatively uneducated about the dangers to which they were exposed everyday.
The Blackburn family goal became clear: to educate people about mesothelioma. Blackburn left her job as a therapist and began talking to people in her father’s Union (the Local 47). She brought information about the disease to anyone who would listen.
Eventually, Blackburn formed a formal educational and awareness program from the ground up. This 2-hour program addresses everything from the anatomy to how to prevent asbestos exposure on the job. Blackburn goes into detail about the types of products that contain asbestos. She discusses the devastating effects of mesothelioma. She talks about prevention. She educates.
Through Blackburn’s bold efforts, she has formed relationships with SMW, UA (Plumbers/Fitters), Ironworkers, and many other groups. She is pursuing partnerships with the Lung Cancer Alliance and First Responders. She is reaching out to Veterans Health Councils.
Through the tragedy of her father’s death, Blackburn has given new life to others. Her passion and determination has helped so many learn and be safe on the job and even in their homes.
One person truly can make a difference. And as is the theme of the conference, one person can be the answer.