Para-occupational Asbestos Exposure — The Subtle Killer

The most common way through which people have been exposed to hazardous levels of asbestos dust is occupational exposure. Prior to regulation that was enacted in the early 1970s, asbestos and asbestos-laden materials were routinely used throughout a variety of industries for a number of industrial and commercial purposes. As such, a great many workers found themselves faced with routine asbestos exposure that has come back to haunt them decades later. Occupational exposure to asbestos is a tragic commonality; para-occupational exposure to asbestos, as one woman's story relates, is simply devastating.

The woman from this patient story was a typical 56-year old woman; the mother of a beautiful daughter who is the mother of three beautiful children. This grandmother lived a healthy lifestyle and had never encountered any serious health problems, so it was more than a little shocking when she was diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma in May of 2004.

The woman's symptoms presented in the form of a reoccurring cough that had been pestering her for several months. The ongoing problem led her to schedule another visit with her doctor. Previous checkups had been unable to determine the cause of the chronic coughing; however, on this day, diagnostic tests revealed that mesothelioma was the cause of her symptoms. Upon hearing the mesothelioma diagnosis, the woman immediately fell into a state of shock, unable to comprehend how she could possibly have developed the fatally incurable cancer. Her shock soon gave way to anger, which in turn gave way to a deep depression.

Malignant mesothelioma is a rare type of incurable cancer that has been linked exclusively with asbestos exposure. The woman believed that she had never been exposed to asbestos in her life and was utterly confounded as to how she may have developed the asbestos disease. It was later revealed that her husband, who had died four years earlier from lung cancer, had routinely been exposed to asbestos through his work as a carpenter. The woman recalled her husband coming home from work riddled with what she assumed was drywall dust. In fact, the powdery substance was none other than asbestos dust. It was therefore determined that the woman had become exposed to excessive levels of asbestos during her regular washing of her husband's work clothes. This type of secondary asbestos exposure is commonly referred to as para-occupational asbestos exposure.

At age 58, the woman has already outlived the average post-diagnostic mesothelioma survival time of one to two years. She has come to terms with her incurable disease through the assistance of mesothelioma support groups where she has been able to share her fears with other terminal patients. While she believes that the support group has helped her come to terms with the eventuality of her death from mesothelioma, she has yet to come to terms with losing her family. The thought of not being able to spend future holidays with her loved ones while watching her grandchildren grow is truly the worst part of her disease. As it is, she is determined to live each of her remaining days to the fullest.


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