With the passing of Merlin Olsen this week, famous NFL legend and television star, the word “mesothelioma” has rippled through the airwaves and headlines of giant media outlets like CNN, the New York Times, and even ESPN. Olsen, age 69, was diagnosed with mesothelioma last year.

Some people know him from his days playing defensive lineman for the Los Angeles Rams, where he earned acclaim as one of the “Fearsome Foursome” and was named to 14 consecutive Pro Bowls.

I remember him more as Charles Ingalls’ good friend in the TV series, “Little House on the Prairie,” where he played the role of gentle giant, frequently keeping Charles from getting into trouble at the Sleepy Eye tavern.

In addition to his professional success, Olsen’s reputation as a decent, charitable man has been remembered and memorialized over the last few days. In December of last year, his alma mater, Utah State University, announced that its football field would be named after him – Merlin Olsen Field.

It is always heartbreaking to hear about the loss of a mesothelioma patient. We can only hope that the absence of Olsen’s friendly, well-known face may help ignite some much-needed awareness about this unnecessary cancer.