John Simmons first met Iva “Ivy” Lewis when he was in high school. He was dating her granddaughter, Jayne. Both sets of John’s grandparents had passed away before he was born, so it was only natural for him to unofficially claim Grandma Ivy as his own grandparent. The claim became official when the high school sweethearts were married in the 1980s.
“When I first visited her home, she insisted I call her Grandma Ivy and that’s just how it was,” John said. “You don’t argue with grandma.”
Decades later, in 2012, during a standard checkup, doctors at Christian Northeast Hospital discovered a spot on her lung. At first, the family had no idea it could be cancer.
“The thought it was mesothelioma just never crossed our minds. The diagnosis was a surprise,” John said and added he remembered his sister-in-law calling and asking him to send her a mesothelioma info packet.
“You never think it’s going to happen to your family until it does,” he said.
Grandma Ivy experienced second-hand exposure to asbestos over thirty years prior. Her husband, Norman, worked at Shell Oil in Wood River, Ill., as a laborer and insulator from 1952 until his retirement in 1982. He worked with and around asbestos on a daily basis and unknowingly carried asbestos dust home on his work clothes. Grandma Ivy was exposed when she handled, shook-out and laundered those clothes.
Three months after her diagnosis in October 2012, Grandma Ivy passed away. The next year, her family created a Miles for Meso team in her memory called, “Team Ivy.” The team shirts are pink in recognition of her favorite color. They’ve attended every year since.
“Losing someone you love to cancer is heartbreaking,” John said. “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.”