In 2002, Andrew Manuel was diagnosed with mesothelioma. By 2004, he was gone. In those two short years, Andrew was determined to make sure his wife LaTanyta and their kids would be protected after he was gone. He filed a successful asbestos lawsuit, securing a measure of peace for his family.
In the years since, LaTanyta has used the stability afforded by the settlement to become a valuable voice in the asbestos prevention community. During Global Asbestos Awareness Week (GAAW), Simmons Hanly Conroy wants to honor Andrew’s life and recognize LaTanyta’s ongoing commitment to helping other families find strength after the unthinkable comes true.
Andrew’s Exposure to Asbestos
Andrew grew up in New Orleans where his father worked as a pipeline distributor for a shipyard. Shipyard workers are one of several dozen occupations that have an increased risk of asbestos exposure. But it’s not just the employees who are at risk.
When workers are exposed to asbestos on the jobsite, they may bring the poisonous fibers back with them on their clothing, exposing their families in the process. Asbestos fibers are sharp, durable and extremely small. Without being warned of the dangers, the family washed their clothes together and the fibers spread throughout their house.
For Andrew, the exposure from his father’s work clothes was compounded because he had asbestos in his backyard. He and his friends would play, running around and kicking up cancerous asbestos fibers. The family never knew about the dangers.
From Common Symptoms to Mesothelioma Diagnosis
Mesothelioma, the disease that ultimately took Andrew’s life, is a lethal cancer caused exclusively by asbestos. There is an average of 10-50 years between exposure to asbestos and the onset of symptoms. To make matters worse, symptoms of mesothelioma are hard to accurately diagnose. Because of Andrew’s childhood exposure, the damage was done.
For decades, though, Andrew had no idea. He grew up, fell in love, became a father and lived a devout and honest life. He and LaTanyta shared 23 years of marriage. Friends and family describe him as a warm man who was invested in his church, his wife and his children.
The first signs of a problem were lower back pains that wouldn’t go away. Andrew went to many doctors who said they could find no medical problem. Finally, a specialist found a spot on his lung, but they still didn’t know what it was. After a biopsy, they learned that Andrew had mesothelioma.
“Meso—what?” LaTanyta recalled thinking at the time of the diagnosis. “Because I had never heard of it before. Ever.” Like so many people whose lives are affected by mesothelioma, Andrew and LaTanyta only learned of the dangers of asbestos when it was too late.
Andrew discovered he had an incurable cancer. His life would soon be over because he was needlessly poisoned as a child. Latanyta was going to be a single parent with three children, learning how to live without her husband. She talked about how difficult it was to move forward in the immediate aftermath of the mesothelioma diagnosis:
“Reality was he could die today or tomorrow. After telling my children, it took something out of me as a parent, and I know it took something out of my husband…. I looked at my children and I said to myself, ‘My children are being robbed of their dad.’”
LaTanyta’s children were asking questions she could not answer. The doctors were giving her answers she did not want to believe. Treating mesothelioma, the Manuels quickly came to find out, meant prolonging life, not curing the disease. From everything LaTanyta could find, the most Andrew could gain was two or three more years. “Nothing was long life,” she said.
Through all of the uncertainty and tragedy, Andrew and LaTanyta assured their children that it would be okay. They would go through this together and find a way to make it.
Finding the Footing to Fight Back
Andrew decided that he would undergo surgery and chemotherapy in order to maximize the time he had left with his family. His mesothelioma was unforgiving, and LaTanyta remembers how it “ate away at his body.” She constantly shopped for new clothes because her husband had lost so much weight. Before the disease, he had been a stocky athlete. By the end, though, LaTanyta had to shop for clothes in the boy’s section of Sears to find something that would fit Andrew.
“Even if something happens to me,” Andrew told LaTanyta, “I want to know before I close my eyes that my family has been taken care of.” He pushed the family to file for a financial settlement — and they won. The resources they gained through the settlement have helped the family move on in the decade since Andrew’s death:
“I don’t take it for granted, and I’d give it back today in place of my husband. . . but knowing that my husband will never come back, the only thing I can do is look forward, and never give up.”
And she never has. LaTanyta says that the settlement put her in a position to better fight mesothelioma. “These companies knew that this would affect someone,” she said, “but they went ahead and did whatever was necessary for their own gain.” LaTanyta still has hard moments without Andrew, but out of their tragedy, she has cultivated new strengths.
Her work with the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation (The Meso Foundation) and advocacy for asbestos victims makes a difference in the lives of thousands of people. In 2002, at the time of Andrew’s diagnosis, there was little information on mesothelioma. Through raising awareness and funding asbestos research, those affected by mesothelioma are no longer in the dark.
In 2017, LaTanyta, along with hundreds of asbestos patients and their family members, signed a letter to the U.S. Senate denouncing the so-called “FACT Act,” which special interests were trying to push through Congress. Under false pretenses, the bill would have made it much more difficult for asbestos survivors and their families to secure resources.
As GAAW 2019 continues, make sure to thank LaTanyta, and the warriors like her, who have helped build the asbestos prevention community. Along with groups like The Meso Foundation and the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO), Simmons Hanly Conroy wants to recognize the individuals who are fighting on behalf of all of us for a healthier tomorrow.
Editor’s Note: This is Day 3 in Simmons Hanly Conroy’s “7 Reasons for 7 Days” blog series, in which we honor the lives of men and women who have fought bravely against the scourge of asbestos. This series is part of an overarching effort to recognize and build awareness about the dangers of asbestos during Global Asbestos Awareness Week. Follow along with the conversation online with the hashtag #2019GAAW.