Alton Miles for Meso, Simmons Hanly Conroy Featured in Alton Telegraph

Walk Benefits Mesothelioma Research

Law firm’s donation, 5K race generate $25,000

For The Telegraph

ALTON – Julie Gundlach did not finish first in Saturday’s Miles for Meso 5K race, but she was first in the hearts and minds of many who were gathered in front of the Simmons law firm. Gundlach, of St. Louis, is a “49 months” survivor of mesothelioma, a rare cancer caused by¬†exposure to asbestos.

“It’s pretty incredible,” Gundlach said of the more than 500 runners and walkers helping to raise money for research. “We didn’t dream it would be this successful. The idea just sort of evolved.”

This is the second year the law firm has organized the 5K race and 3K fun walk and the company hopes to make it “bigger and better every year,” said Lori Smith, director of the firm’s employee foundation.

“All it takes is exposure to one asbestos fiber,” said Mark Motley, the firm’s vice president of communications. “It’s a very real disease and the U.S. has not fully banned asbestos. That’s one reason for the race – to build awareness.”

Motley said mesothelioma typically is seen in older individuals, especially those who have worked in industrial settings.

Gundlach said it was devastating to receive the news that she had mesothelioma. She was 39 then, with a husband and 3-year-old daughter.

“You’re in a state of shock. It’s almost impossible to process when you’re told to put your affairs in order,” she said.

There can be a 25- to 50-year latency period between exposure and the development of the disease. Gundlach’s exposure was secondhand. Her father was an electrician with IEBW Local No. 1 out of St. Louis whose job would likely have taken him to sites with asbestos present.

“When someone is diagnosed with meso, they say they aren’t around asbestos. But you have to think back to where you were 40 years ago,” Gundlach said.

Between 85 and 90 percent of mesothelioma cases are in the lungs. Gundlach’s was in her abdomen, making her one of the “lucky ones because it’s more treatable.” She went through four surgeries and more than 20 chemotherapy treatments, the last one in November 2008.

Sisters Debbie Kimberlin and Vicki Killaren, both of St. Louis, were there in memory of their mother, Dody Stout, who passed away from the disease in 2004 at age 61.

“Her dad worked at Portland’s Cement (in St. Louis). She would take him his lunch every day. They used asbestos in everything back then – in the pipes under the houses, the shingles on the roof. It’s pretty devastating when you’re told to go home and make your final arrangements,” Kimberlin said.

“We grateful to Simmons because we didn’t know anyone at the time who could help us. Because of Simmons, our mother was able to leave a legacy for her grandchildren. They’ll have their college education paid for,” Kimberlin said.

A donation from the firm and proceeds from the race raised about $25,000 for the Mesothelioma for Applied Research Foundation, a nonprofit organization that has donated more than $6.2 million to mesothelioma research. Awards of $500, $250 and $100 were awarded to the first three winners overall, as well as five additional $100 cash prizes.

Although grateful for those participating in the race, Gundlach herself is no fan of running.

“I hate running, but I look at it as, ‘I get to do this.’ My husband and daughter were running and they’re faster than me. But to have them run with me is awesome.”

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