Mesothelioma Survivor Stories

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Around 2,000-3,000 new mesothelioma cases are diagnosed in the U.S. each year. Of these cases, around 70 to 80 percent of the patients have been heavily exposed to asbestos and the vast majority of cases are in men over the age of 65. In fact, it is estimated that men are anywhere from 4 to 5 times more likely to develop mesothelioma than women. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), this is likely because men are more likely to have worked in jobs with heavy exposure to asbestos.

With statistics like these, people are often baffled when they hear that a woman or anyone in their 30s has been diagnosed with mesothelioma. Unfortunately, even though this condition is rarely found in women and the young, it can happen and it is usually the result of second-hand exposure. Such was the case for a Minnesota woman who discovered she had the disease at the age of 36.

Just three months after giving birth to her daughter, Heather Von St. James was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma, rare form of cancer that affects the lining of the lung and chest wall (pleura). Pleural mesothelioma may also spread into the pericardium (the sheet of tissue covering the heart), which is very close to the pleura. Naturally, the diagnosis stunned the Roseville, Minnesota mom who didn’t know much about asbestos or mesothelioma. Soon, however, Von St. James discovered where she had been exposed to asbestos and it wasn’t in the workplace.

Von St. James grew up in South Dakota as the daughter of a construction worker. In a news story featured on ABC 5 Eyewitness News, KSTP (Minneapolis/St. Paul) Von St. James says she used to wear her father’s coat when he came home from work because, she says, “it felt good to me and it was something I loved to do.” Her father often worked on demolition and clean up jobs which left his clothes, shoes, and car covered in gray, crusty asbestos dust. It was this second-hand asbestos dust that gave Von St. James cancer.

In her mid-30s, Von St. James felt a weight that she described as “a truck parked”on her chest. She couldn’t breathe. After being diagnosed with mesothelioma, Von St. James underwent an extrapleural pneumonectomy to remove her left lung. Today, Von St. James is an eight-year mesothelioma survivor and she shares her story to help raise awareness about the disease and the dangers of asbestos.

Asbestos Today

Although asbestos is heavily regulated in the U.S. and banned in 44 countries, the manufacture, importation, processing and distribution of the following products is still legal:

  • Automatic transmission components
  • Brake blocks
  • Cement corrugated sheet
  • Cement flat sheet
  • Cement pipe
  • Cement shingle
  • Clothing
  • Clutch facings
  • Disk brake pads
  • Drum brake linings
  • Friction materials
  • Gaskets
  • Millboard
  • Non-roofing coatings
  • Pipeline wrap
  • Roof coatings
  • Roofing felt
  • Vinyl floor tile

For more information about asbestos regulations in the U.S., visit the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) at


ABC 5 Eyewitness News, KSTP-Minneapolis/St. Paul
American Cancer Society
American Lung Association
Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers Association (ACPMA), New Delhi
Cancer Research UK
United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
University of California San Francisco, Department of Thoracic Surgery

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