Doug McNamee talks about his father, and the journey that he went through after his father was diagnosed with Mesothelioma, from not knowing about the disease to the extensive research and learning more about Mesothelioma and its causes.
John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher. I’m here today with Doug McNamee. Doug is a writer whose father was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2008 and passed away in May of 2009, which led Doug down a path of researching mesothelioma and asbestos, which has continued to this day. Welcome, Doug. Thanks for being here.
Doug McNamee: It’s great to be here and thanks, John.
Doug’s Father’s Background & Diagnosis with Mesothelioma
John: So Doug, tell us a little bit more about your family and in particular, your father and his journey with mesothelioma.
Doug: Well, my dad was probably a typical teenager. When he left high school he was 18 and not really sure what to do with his life. So, he ended up going into the Navy, and that’s where he started falling into a path of engineering. So, he was on a world War II Class destroyer called the USS Norris, which is what happened that a lot of those ships were recycled throughout the Naval service until the point where, of course, they were no longer functional. So, it turns out the Navy did use asbestos-based products for insulating a lot of the plumbing and lot of the water-based systems on ships. And because my dad was an engineer, he was pretty much everywhere that you could physically reach on the ship, doing things, attending to whatever…
John: In the engine room and places like that.
Doug: Right. He was going there to troubleshoot problems or whatever. And then the most telling thing to me that he told me about is, he would be laying in his bunk and he would see all this dust falling down on him. And not knowing what it was, it never occurred to him.
So, 50 years later, my dad, he was a golfer, and he was out playing golf. And he was a healthy guy and I wouldn’t say he was Arnold Schwarzenegger or anything like that, but he took care of himself. He didn’t smoke, he didn’t drink excessively. And he liked to walk on the golf course. Well, he noticed that he was out with a friend and they were playing golf and he’s all of a sudden realized that he was short of breath and he thought that was strange. And it wasn’t just an anomaly. It happened a few times, I suppose. So he made an appointment with his heart doctor and the heart doctor told him that it’s not really something with your heart, something probably with your lungs.
And so, from there, he made an appointment with his GP. And eventually ended up in the hospital and having procedure because they did see quite a bit of liquid around his lungs. And they were saying before they did the procedure that — I forget the exact term that they used, but it was sort of an unclassified thing with his lungs, so they couldn’t really classify what it was — but once they got in and started doing this surgery or the draining of the water from his lungs, they realized that it was mesothelioma. And they drained four liters of fluid off of his lungs.
Doug: And of course, I remember my dad calling me and saying, “Oh, I think I might have cancer.” Of course, I was completely shocked to hear that because he would be the last person in the world that I would ever think would get cancer. And then the doctor came in after he had this procedure done and talked to us and mentioned that word, and I was like, “What in God’s green earth, is that?”
What Was Explained About Asbestos and Mesothelioma?
John: Right. So that was going to be my next question was, when you got that diagnosis, you didn’t know anything about mesothelioma and what it was or what it was caused by or anything like that. What was on your mind, or what was explained to you then at that time?
Doug: Well, very little. They just said that it was an asbestos-based cancer and they really didn’t tell us a lot really. And of course my mom’s head went to a tail spin and she kind of lost it. And we were both just in shock. So I went home that night and started to look into that, started to learn what this was. And I was surprised that there was so much information out there about it, because I don’t have a TV. And my mom even tells me to this day that she sees commercials for mesothelioma. So, to us, this is 13 years ago now, and it was just a complete storm from left field. It just never occurred to me, or I completely never had heard of this kind of cancer before.
John: Right. Did the doctors, at the time that he was diagnosed, did they let you know what his prognosis was or did you expect it would be so little time that you’d have left with him?
Doug: That’s a good question. I’m trying to remember because it’s so long ago now. I think the prognosis was not good because I do think I remember the doctor saying that, “Your dad probably has a year, tops.” And that’s when, you know, that after he got out of the hospital, we started really delving into different things. And he found out, through another appointment with a surgeon at Ohio State University, that he could possibly have this surgery and it might prolong his life a few years, a few years more. And he might have a quality of life where he could just continue to live his life until the point where he died. But I think, eventually, he was on that path. He was trying to figure out what would work for him.
Research Into Mesothelioma and its Causes
John: So, you became the defacto researcher for the family. What kind of research process did you go through in order to try to understand mesothelioma and asbestos and learn more about that, in order to try to help your dad?
Doug: Probably not very exciting, but mainly just spending a lot of time doing a lot of internet research and learning about it. I think that’s how I learned about my dad’s ship. I just happened to know the ship that he was on. And that’s how I found that about that ship. Interesting point to that is that many years later, the ship ended up being retired, of course, and got to the point where it ended up sinking somewhere, maybe in Mexico or the Caribbean somewhere offshore. And it broke apart and I saw something related that a lot of the sea life swimming around that ship was dying off. And I always wondered whether that was related to the ship being filled with asbestos, but it’s all hearsay.
John: So, as you started to do this research, was there anything that surprised you when you learned more about asbestos and how it was used?
Doug: Well, I suppose it was just that I didn’t realize how prominent the use of asbestos was in different areas of different industries, such as plumbing and brake lining and drywall and even things like duct tape. Stuff that you don’t ever think about, or you just take for granted and never really think about. And I think that definitely enhanced my knowledge about it, but I think reading this book about the use of asbestos and how it becomes formed from vermiculite, which was heavily mined in Libby, Montana. That was a real eye opener for me. And what happened to all the people in that town was just really disgusting.
And I know many years later, William H. Grace was sued by these families and he ended up getting off. So, he didn’t have to pay them anything, which is very sad, because people lost their families, their wives, their children, to being exposed to vermiculite that these miners would bring home on their clothing and they would, and their wives, their kids, would inhale it. And as they say, it’s like only a dime size amount of this and then it starts spreading like wildfire in your body. So evil stuff.
Encouragement for Families Dealing with Mesothelioma
John: So, Doug, do you have any words of encouragement for those either diagnosed with, or maybe who have a family member who’s diagnosed with mesothelioma or a family member who has died because of mesothelioma?
Doug: Well, I think the thing that I learned, and I think I learned this probably from several people that I met at these foundation meetings, is that mesothelioma doesn’t affect everybody in the same. It all depends on your immune system, of course. And how do you make a strong immune system while people say, eat the right foods and drink this and don’t do this. And it is just a freak thing because some people have got it — there’s this one woman I’ve seen, she’s had mesothelioma for a long time and she’s still around. And she was exposed years and years ago. So maybe it’s just her immune system, the way her body… and I’m not sure if she was getting treatments or anything or… I read a book once saying that if you stick to a strictly vegetarian diet and eat lots of vegetables and things like that maybe your chances of fighting off, not just mesothelioma, but other kinds of cancer are stronger.
So, I would say that for other people, families who are going through this, is that there is hope out there that maybe someone who does get infected, their body will respond in a positive way. And of course there are also a lot more treatments out there now for this. And the knowledge has grown…because my dad passed away 13 years ago. So it’s rarely changed and they’re coming up with new ways of treating people who get diagnosed with this. And it’s not such an unknown area anymore.
I would say if somebody were to be diagnosed today that their chances of surviving it, they’re better. It’s more a positive chance that they’ll survive and they won’t have to go through something like what my dad went through with having a lung and part of a ribcage removed. So it seems like there’s more options occurring.
John: Doug, thanks again for speaking with me and for sharing your story about your father. I really appreciate it.
Doug: Okay. Thank you. Appreciate it. Thanks for taking the time to talk to me, John.
John: And for more information on mesothelioma, you can visit the mesothelioma lawyers, Satterley & Kelley at satterleylaw.com or call the firm’s office at (800)-655-2117.