As Dr. Pass states, most patients have mesothelioma symptoms anywhere from two weeks to six months prior to seeking medical treatment. The symptoms can and do include shortness of breath, loss of appetite, pain on the side or back, and a cough.

After interviewing hundreds of individuals, I have learned that it is often a life–changing occurrence or other significant incident that triggers the initial trip to the doctor.

In my experience women seem to have a greater threshold for pain, so they tend to ignore it and push on. I’ve heard all types of self-diagnoses and excuses from the female pleural mesothelioma patient. Yet when I ask them the reason they first sought medical attention, the majority of them complain of pain under the shoulder blade or mid-side to back. Most of the women with whom I have spoken tell me that they did not experience shortness of breath or cough until after they had been diagnosed. All have stories to tell, and I listen. I listen to every word they tell me.

One woman, recently divorced, set out to change her life for the better. I will call her Iola. She told me that after she had shed her deadbeat husband, she determined it was time to shed the weight. Her goal was to lose 50 lbs., and she began a moderate exercise program that included aerobics and swimming. Iola was faithful to the regimen and dropped 20 lbs. in six to seven weeks. She decided it was time to add the weights to her workout schedule. Iola experienced the normal soreness accompanied with weight training but continued to press forward. The “soreness” lingered for almost two months. Then one Saturday morning she took it upon herself to rearrange her living room furniture, and the pain knocked her to the floor.

Iola told me that the excruciating pain kept her pinned to the floor for nearly 20 minutes. She told me that she had to crawl and scoot on her belly to reach the telephone to call her son for help. When Iola’s son and his family arrived, they panicked. Afraid to move her, they called the paramedics and Iola was transported to the emergency room of a nearby hospital.

After describing the events that led up to her fall, Iola was diagnosed as having a pulled or strained muscle, prescribed a muscle relaxer with bed rest, and was told to follow up with her primary care physician if the pain persisted. Odd but true, no x-rays were taken. After 48 hours, the sharp agonizing pain faded to a dull nagging presence.

Did Iola follow up with her doctor? No. As the holidays were fast approaching, Iola was swamped with preparations for Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas baking, charity work with her church, and shopping for Christmas gifts. Iola pumped herself with ibuprofen and told her family she was fine.

Then, in late January, Iola realized that her pain was only a symptom of a greater problem. She was constantly tired and no longer interested in working out. It was all she could do to walk upstairs to her bedroom. Iola finally decided enough was enough and contacted her physician. Approximately four weeks later, after a battery of tests, Iola was diagnosed with right-sided pleural mesothelioma. Iola’s first symptom appeared almost seven months before she was diagnosed.

I have found that a number of men I have spoken with have been on vacation or traveling when their symptoms first appear. They normally put off seeking medical attention until they return home or their wives force them to go to the doctor. Just like Congressman Vento, they experienced severe shortness of breath and pain in the mid-back or just under the shoulder blade.

I have been told by wives that those with a cough have had an early morning cough for months, sometimes even years. The cough progresses to the point where the patient cannot finish a sentence without coughing or clearing his throat. They assume it’s allergies and will take OTC medications to relieve the symptoms.

The problem is that mesothelioma hides so well for so long. Even those that have a known history of asbestos exposure and have already been diagnosed as having pleural scarring or asbestosis, and have their health monitored with regular chest films can fall victim to mesothelioma even after receiving a clean bill of health just a few months earlier.

These men are very active, in their mid 60’s, and have recently retired. They have spent their time pursuing their hobbies such as woodworking, sailing, hunting or fishing. They are men who have worked hard all their lives, saved for their retirement, and had plans to enjoy another 20 or 30 years doing what they loved.

These men and women were the builders of America.