Mesothelioma is form of cancer that’s commonly thought of as the asbestos cancer. The most common way to get mesothelioma is through asbestos exposure and, cruelly, the time between exposure and the appearance of the cancer is usually several decades. I was recently contacted by a reader, Virgil, who has recently been diagnosed with this form of cancer and I’ve been so inspired by his positivity, and intention to use diet to help combat it, that I’ve decided to write a review of his story here.
First, what is Mesothelioma?
Researching this form of cancer has made me feel so sad. I really feel for all the people who have it. It is almost always caused by exposure to asbestos and it’s a cancer that normally develops in the thin tissue (mesothelium) that covers internal organs, most often the lungs. More rarely, it can also develop in the sac around the heart or testis. Unfortunately, the symptoms of Mesothelioma come on slowly and the cancer is not normally diagnosed until it is quite advanced. The common symptoms of the typical lung based version are chest pain, shortness of breath, fatigue, a high temperature and sweating, a persistent cough, loss of appetite, unexplained weight loss and clubbed (swollen) fingertips. It’s easy to see how these symptoms don’t quickly and directly point to this cancer.
In the initial stages of the cancer the cancerous cells develop in the mesothelium and in later stages they begin to form tutor masses in the tissue around the lungs. It can then spread to the chest wall and around the heart and begin forming in the lymph nodes. In its latest stage the tumour masses have spread to many parts of the abdomen and continue to spread.
Unfortunately, there’s very little that can be done to reverse the spread of Mesothelioma and the most common treatments to slow it down are chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
It makes me feel very sad to think that there are people out there having to go through the difficulties of dealing with this cancer. I feel like we should do more to help them and support them.
Virgil was exposed to asbestos at a fairly young age. Life was tough in his family and he had to earn a wage as soon as he could. One of the jobs he had was helping to demolish houses that, unfortunately, included asbestos materials. Even a later job as a car mechanic also involved significant exposure to asbestos. Before he turned 50, Virgil started to get very sick but the early symptoms were not accurately diagnosed. A chronic severe cough, difficulty breathing and inability to walk very far was diagnosed as pneumonia and treated with antibiotics. Only after the symptoms continued to worsen was Virgil diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma – the version that attacks the tissue around the lungs.
This is a very heavy diagnosis. It’s an aggressive form of cancer with very little doctors can do in the way of treatment.
In Virgil’s case, the tumours had spread too far for surgical removal to be an option, and he’s undergoing chemotherapy to reduce the size of them and limit their spread.
I feel very sad for Virgil and rather helpless as I instinctively try to look for things that could help him. However, I find that Virgil inspires me and two quotes he makes in his full story (http://mesothelioma.net/virgil/) are examples of why;
“I still have hope for the future, and every day I try to enjoy being alive, in spite of the limitations my illness has put on me.”
“I may be limited now, but I still love life and I’m happy just to be alive. I appreciate the time I still have with family and friends more than ever.”
Now it’s Virgil helping me, with his amazing positive attitude.
Can a change in diet help Virgil?
Virgil is considering to experiment with Paleo and/or Ketogenic diets to see if that helps with coping with his cancer and the side-effects of his treatment. Is it reasonable to think that diet can have an effect? For sure!
In my opinion, the most important effects we can have on our bodies come from our minds. When we make a diet change, I believe that the biggest effect comes from the fact that we’re trying to do something positive to help our bodies cope. It’s the intention we have to be kind to ourselves and try to help our bodies that’s the key. The actual diet choice is of secondary importance as long as we honestly believe that we’re doing it for the betterment of our body.
Having said that, I’d like to explain what I think would be the most helpful and kind way to treat the body. First, eat less. Simple. Normally we (me included!) overload our bodies with too much stuff because we like the way it tastes. Much of this stuff is actually hard for the body to deal with and we put it under a lot of unnecessary stress. Second, I’d eat only pure, whole, living, organic foods that are the simplest way of getting nutrients into the body. Generally these would be simple, raw vegetables and fruits. That’s it. Eat less and eat lovely things straight from nature.
A question I often ask myself is “why don’t I eat like this now?” and the only answer I can come up with is that I should. However, I’m addicted to tastes that I like and I have some fear that life would be more boring if I ate less and ate well all the time. It worries me that it would take a serious illness to shift me away from these fears. Hopefully I can do it before.
A couple of things worth seeing regarding health, diet and illness are these three videos – Food Matters, Simply Raw and Wheelchair To Walking By Changing Diet. Also, these websites are useful for exploring Paleo diets and diet options in general – Mercola.com and Mark’s Daily Apple.
Support for Virgil (and all with serious illnesses)
What can we do to help Virgil? Well at least medically, very little. But we can support Virgil and everyone going through troubling illnesses like Mesothelioma at the human level. We can be compassionate and caring and help make sure they have everything they need to be as comfortable, happy and productive as possible.
The greatest things in life are acts of kindness. Just because someone is seriously ill, does not prevent them from acting with kindness (just as Virgil’s two quotes about have touched me and inspired me), so sick people are still people and are definitely able to contribute at the highest level possible. Of course, there are plenty of opportunities for everyone else (me included) to act with kindness towards those suffering.
What can I do to offer kindness to mesothelioma sufferers, or any serious illness sufferer? That’s a hard question. Unless the person is a friend or relative, I tend to have something like an “out of sight, out of mind” attitude. I tend to assume that they are being taken care of by the medical industry and I’m just glad it’s not me. That’s bad. That attitude just isn’t good enough.
So, what can I do? Hmm… I’ll try to think of something concrete I can do and, at least, I can be consciously aware of those suffering and send out positive, loving thoughts.
Thank you Virgil for contacting me and shifting my awareness.