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When I first heard that my mother had mesothelioma, a cancer of which the only known cause is asbestos exposure, I should have been concerned about only one thing: her welfare. I should have gone through the stages of grieving that any child losing their mother experiences.

Heidi von Palleske
Published Wednesday, Jul. 27, 2011 6:02PM EDT
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Instead, coupled with concern for her, I feared for myself. I started worrying about how my husband would dress my daughter for school. Who would help her with her math homework? How would they fare without me? I tried to make everyone more self-sufficient. My husband, my daughter, my goddaughter who lives with us. Even the cats. I found myself getting impatient if my family needed me for anything. “I might not be here forever!” I snapped.

What seems unfair is that I was first exposed as a baby. I had no idea I was at risk until my mother was diagnosed. There was no support for the families of asbestos workers. No information was given to us. As we watched our fathers or husbands die, we believed the suffering ended there.

I couldn’t wait any longer. I phoned for my results and told the receptionist to just read them over the phone to spare me the two days of waiting for an appointment. She told me there was no sign of mesothelioma, no sign of asbestosis and no sign of asbestos exposure. My daughter ran in from the next room. We were hugging and crying all at once.

I visited my mother. I told her my news and she was happy. She could not bear for her children to die the way she is going. “I always thought that health was the most important thing,” she said. “If you don’t have your health what do you have? I no longer have my health but I do have one thing still – love. In the end that is all there is.”

And, like most mothers, she was right again. In the end, there is only love. And so my heart goes out to the thousands of chrysotile asbestos workers in India and to their families who are also victims of the fairy dust.

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