Have you ever heard the phrase “cancer isn’t a person’s diagnosis, it’s a family’s diagnosis”?
Mesothelioma may be considered “rare” and may only be diagnosed in approximately 3,000 Americans each year, but when you also consider the number of families this terminal diagnosis affects, its devastation is far-reaching.
For Conor Lewis and Zack Johnson, the first time they learned about mesothelioma (other than seeing a random, late-night commercial for mesothelioma lawsuits on the television), was when a loved one was diagnosed. Conor and Zack had never comprehended the deadliness of mesothelioma and how it is directly caused by asbestos because they hadn’t needed to. Not until their grandmother, Iva Lewis, was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma in 2012.
“We weren’t shocked at the time, rather the shock came when we learned just how she got mesothelioma,” said Conor in an article by the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO).
Iva was the victim of take-home asbestos exposure. Her husband worked as a pipe insulator at a Shell Oil Refinery in Illinois where he spent his days wrapping pipes in asbestos.
“When he came home, our grandmother would take his dirty work cover-alls and shake them out in an attempt to keep her washing machine clean of this ‘dirt’ and ‘dust,’” said Conor. “It was this service that eventually ended her life.“
A Film is Born
That’s when Conor and Zack decided to take action and learn as much as they could about asbestos, mesothelioma, and what can be done to prevent such a devastating diagnosis from happening to anyone else. They set out for a 3-month journey, traveling by bicycle across the U.S., talking to people from all walks of life who had been impacted by asbestos exposure.
They talked to Julie Gundlach, a now nearly 12-year mesothelioma survivor from St. Louis, who was diagnosed with the disease at age 35. They spoke with Jordan Zevon, the ADAO National Spokesperson and son of rock star Warren Zevon, who died from mesothelioma. Jordan spoke about his father and gave insight into what it was like to lose his father to mesothelioma.
They met with countless others, including a man named Bill Terry, who worked with Iva’s husband at the Shell Oil Refinery and gave first hand insight into the work conditions there.
They even spoke with Linda Reinstein, a mesothelioma widow and Co-Founder/CEO of ADAO.
Conor and Zack got all of these encounters on film. They pieced it together beautifully to tell the story not just of Iva, but of countless families across the country. They titled it Dirty Laundry.
Like any cancer diagnosis and its impact on a family, the two cousins weren’t the only family members affected by Iva’s diagnosis and death. Simmons Hanly Conroy Chairman John Simmons is married to Iva’s granddaughter, Jayne. He also wanted to help raise awareness and served as executive producer on the film.
Because both sets of his grandparents passed away before he could remember them, John has always viewed Iva as his grandma, too.
“When I first visited her home, she insisted I call her ‘Grandma Ivy’ and that’s just how it was,” said John. “You don’t argue with Grandma.”
Along with Conor and Zack, the death of Iva changed John’s life forever, too.
“You never think it’s going to happen to your family until it does,” he said. “Losing someone you love to cancer is heartbreaking. Knowing it could have been prevented makes me want to fight harder and to keep fighting for our clients, to keep advocating for awareness and to keep supporting efforts for a cure. Maybe, with all that, I can help make sure other families get to keep their grandmas a little longer.”
Dirty Laundry will premiere at the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival at 4:45 p.m. March 15.
“We were confused about what asbestos was and felt a strong sense of injustice with our grandmother’s story,” said Conor about why Dirty Laundry was created. “[Asbestos took] a family member we loved, but it’s also given us a new family of people who are fighting for the same goal – to end this problem once and for all so we don’t lose more people like Iva.”
You can learn more about Dirty Laundry and view a teaser trailer for the film at http://asbestos.movie.