In October 2011, at the young age of 29, what Mike Mattmuller thought was just shortness of breath turned out to be a devastating diagnosis: Mike had a rare and aggressive cancer known as mesothelioma. That same year, Mike was one of approximately 3,000 Americans diagnosed with this incurable form of cancer caused by asbestos exposure.
The news hit Mike and his wife, Jessica, hard. Upon diagnosis, many mesothelioma patients have a bleak prognosis, with often only 12 months or less to live. This is due to the fact that many mesothelioma patients are not diagnosed with the disease until it is in its later stages. The onset of mesothelioma is subtle, and sometimes even doctors have trouble separating its mild initial symptoms from that of the common cold.
Mike is not like most other mesothelioma patients, however. Unlike others with the same disease, Mike’s prognosis looked better: He was young and relatively healthy, and therefore his body was arguably more prepared to take on extremely invasive surgeries. Additionally, with legal help, which secured compensation for Mike and his family, he was able to undergo costly and aggressive treatment that led to the progress he and his wife had only dreamed of.
After four rounds of chemotherapy, Mike received an extra-pleural pneumonectomy in 2012, which involved removal of his left lung and its damaged lining.
A Mesothelioma Battle That Continues
Throughout his long battle with mesothelioma, surgeries and other difficult treatments, such as chemotherapy, have taken their toll. After his extra-pleural pneumonectomy, Mike’s recovery was challenging. The removal of his left lung, pericardium and half of his diaphragm led to shifting organs and stomach complications.
Then, in late 2018, doctors found the cancer had returned.
Recently, Mike underwent another surgery to remove as much of the cancer as possible, but during surgery, doctors found more cancer. Soon, Mike will face yet another round of chemotherapy.
Ever since his initial diagnosis in 2011, Mike has fought every single day for his life. But his will, spirit and determination have led to him accomplishing feats that not many mesothelioma patients have. In 2016 he achieved one of life’s greatest accomplishments of all: fatherhood. While battling mesothelioma, Mike and Jessica welcomed a baby girl, Riley Jean.
It’s safe to say Riley is his motivation not just for battling cancer, but for battling against the continued use of asbestos in the United States. Mike and Jessica have spent the last eight years since his mesothelioma diagnosis fighting tirelessly for an asbestos ban, so that they can help prevent others from being affected by asbestos-related diseases. Mike said,
“I’m here, I’m alive, I’m still walking around. I have a two-year-old daughter who I get to cherish every moment with. So, it’s been absolutely amazing. It’s been hard, my god it’s been hard, but it’s been worth every minute.”
Living eight full years after a mesothelioma diagnosis is extremely rare. Even rarer? Dedicating every one of those days to his family and their national fight against asbestos.
Fighting for an Asbestos-Free Future
Mike and Jessica have committed their lives’ work to fighting back against the scourge asbestos on a national scale. The toxic mineral, which the World Health Organization (WHO), along with many other national and international health agencies, has deemed undeniably “carcinogenic to humans,” takes upwards to 40,000 American lives prematurely each year.
While asbestos is banned in over 55 countries worldwide, it is still legal for use in the United States. This is why Mike and Jessica continue to fight – for the safety and wellbeing of their daughter, Riley, but also for all of us.
“I’ve done three Senate/House briefings and have given one planned and one impromptu speech at Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO) conferences,” said Mike.
Mike also volunteers as ADAO Eastern Co-Regional Director, sharing his story at congressional staff briefings. During Day 5 of Global Asbestos Awareness Week this year, Mike was recognized as an ADAO ambassador.
“[Mike and Jessica] have become strong ambassadors for awareness, actively volunteering, sharing their story, and even testifying at Congress on multiple occasions,” said ADAO President and CEO Linda Reinstein.
Mike is also an advocate for the annual Miles for Meso race, which he and his wife have attended multiple times. Said Mike,
“We patients refer to it as the silver lining of the disease because the amount of support and appreciation you feel, and getting everybody involved in events like this, it’s absolutely amazing every time you get together. It’s a great experience for patients.”
Every person can make a difference in the fight against asbestos use. Call your legislators and tell them to support an asbestos-free future for America and the world. ADAO provides online resources to help people make a difference. To make a difference for Matt and Jessica as they continue their battle against mesothelioma, a GoFundMe has been created to help offset the costs of Matt’s treatment.
Editor’s Note: This is Day 6 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.