Moving forward after a mesothelioma diagnosis is a tremendous act of courage.
Since she was first diagnosed in 2006, Julie Gundlach has fought for every day of her life. Nearing the 13th anniversary of her diagnosis, she is still battling and still sharing her amazing story with people across the country.
This year, Julie and her family will once again come to Alton, Illinois on September 28 to take part in 11th Annual Alton Miles for Meso 5K Race & 3K Fun Run/Walk. The race and fun run/walk raise funds to help support mesothelioma patients like Julie access mesothelioma treatment and resources.
The visibility of Miles for Meso events also provides an opportunity for those affected to educate the public about the hidden dangers of asbestos.
Julie’s struggle with mesothelioma and her hard-won survival are emblematic of the incremental change that the asbestos awareness community fights for every day.
Julie’s Battle Against a Preventable Cancer
Julie has peritoneal mesothelioma, which means the cancer is located in her abdominal cavity (peritoneum). Peritoneal mesothelioma accounts for roughly 10 percent of cases. It is much more treatable than pleural mesothelioma, which affects the lungs and accounts for 75 percent of all mesothelioma cases.
At the time of diagnosis, however, Julie had never heard of these terms.
“I felt like I was a high school dropout attending masters-level classes when I first stepped into this world,” Julie told the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO) in 2011.
She remembers being advised to talk to a lawyer and make sure her affairs were in order. The shock of the prognosis shattered her world, but she decided to fight back. She sought the best treatment possible. Her husband and family supported her by carrying the house-hold burdens as she began to make frequent cross-country trips for difficult treatments.
Along with the crushing fear, Julie was beset by insurance companies that looked for any way to deny her medical coverage. They called her treatments “experimental” and refused to compensate her. When that ploy didn’t work, the insurers told her she was out-of-network.
Julie persevered. She connected with the asbestos prevention community, allied with Simmons Hanly Conroy, and fought for access to life-saving treatments.
When Julie was diagnosed with mesothelioma, her daughter was three-years-old. At the 2019 ADAO International Asbestos Awareness and Prevention Conference, Julie said that her daughter is now 15 and a half.
“I’m teaching her how to drive and she will most certainly remember her mother. There’s no question about that!”
The Dangers of ‘Take-Home’ Asbestos
As Julie’s story proves, there is no such thing as a typical asbestos victim.
Yes, certain occupations have a higher than average risk of asbestos exposure, but there are millions of tons of asbestos lining floors, walls, and ceilings in buildings all over America. As the asbestos-containing materials degrade over time, the tiny fibers are released into the air, where anyone can be exposed.
Once exposed to asbestos, the risk of developing mesothelioma is lifelong. There is no cure.
Julie’s dad was a union electrician. He provided light and power to thousands of residents and business over the course of his career. He drilled through walls and snaked wires through buildings where construction dust entered his lungs and covered his clothes.
When Julie and her sister welcomed their dad home from work, his clothes still had the toxic dust on them. At Julie’s childhood home, the laundry room was the playroom. No one in Julie’s family knew about the dangers posed by the “take-home” asbestos that literally surrounded the Gundlach’s house.
‘Making a Profit Off People’s Pain Is Wrong’
The companies that employed the union workers knew full well about the dangers. They also knew asbestos was cheap, durable and readily available. Supply chain costs trumped the health of their workers because mesothelioma has a 10-to-50-year average latency period. They thought they could get away with exposing their employees to asbestos for decades.
“While there’s a lot of gray in this world, I also know that there is right and there is wrong,” Julie said at the ADAO conference. “Making a profit off people’s pain and lives is wrong. And I will not stop until we have a ban on asbestos.”
As unbelievable as it sounds, the United States is not one of the 66 nations that have already banned asbestos.
Join a Miles for Meso Race and Increase the Visibility of Asbestos Prevention
There are Miles for Meso races in three states this year. Each event is put together by mesothelioma survivors, their families and other members in the asbestos prevention community. Along with building a sense of shared purpose among those directly affected by mesothelioma and asbestos-related diseases, these events provide an opportunity to be seen and heard by the public at large.
Asbestos is everyone’s problem.
Like Julie, most people are not aware of the dangers of asbestos exposure until long after they are exposed. The more people know about the toxic fiber lurking in their homes, schools and workplaces, the better.
In Congress, there is a bill that would ban asbestos for good—no exceptions, no loopholes. The Alan Reinstein Ban Asbestos Now Act of 2019 provides a real long-term path towards an America free of asbestos.
Join in a Miles for Meso race this year, and know that every mile run or walked is helping someone fight back against a preventable disease. For those who cannot make an event in person, there are now ways to get involved with Miles for Meso from a distance.