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Confronting the Needless Tragedy of Mesothelioma
Wendell and Elizabeth Mason In happier times.

Elizabeth Mason, her two grown daughters and grown son will be wearing T-shirts with a photo of their late husband and father, Wendell Mason, this Saturday, Sept. 26, when Olathe, KS, and many other communities across the country observe Mesothelioma Awareness Day.

“We want people to stop and think,” Beth Mason, of Olathe, said in an interview. “Asbestos is still out there. We don’t want other families to go through what we’ve been through. Wendell and I were robbed of our retirement together.”

Wendell Mason, a member of Teamsters Local 541 who 25 years ago worked as a truck driver and insulation fabricator for Performance Contracting, a subsidiary of Owens-Corning Fiberglas, died Dec. 31, 2006 at age 65. The cause of death was complications of mesothelioma, a form of lung cancer caused by exposure to tiny fish-hook shaped asbestos fibers.

Olathe Mayor Michael Copeland outlined the perils of mesothelioma in his proclamation, which calls on all citizens to “help raise public awareness of the disease and the need to develop effective treatments for it.”

The proclamation, issued partly at the request of the Mason family, states:

“Whereas, approximately 3,000 Americans die each year from mesothelioma, an aggressive cancer of the linings of the lungs, abdomen, heart, or testicles; and

“Whereas, human use of asbestos in the built environment and in products is believed to be the main cause of mesothelioma, and the use of asbestos in manufacturing, industry and construction has been recognized as the worst occupational health disaster in U.S. history; and

“Whereas, asbestos was used in the construction of virtually all office buildings, public schools, and homes built before 1975; and

“Whereas, a high percentage of victims were exposed to asbestos on Naval ships and in shipyards, and it is believed that many firefighters, police officers and rescue workers at Ground Zero on 9/11 may be at an increased risk; and

“Whereas, exposure to asbestos for as little as one month can result in mesothelioma 30 years later; and

“Whereas, for decades, the need for research to develop effective treatments for mesothelioma was overlooked, and the result of this neglect is that treatments available today generally have only limited effect, and most patients succumb within only 12-15 months from diagnosis; and

“Whereas, in 1999, the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation was formed to eradicate the life-ending and vicious effects of mesothelioma, and early progress in developing effective treatments for the disease is now being made…”

Mayor Copeland told KCTribune: "The City of Olathe is pleased to join communities across the nation in helping to raise public awareness of this disease and the need to develop effective treatment for it."

After Wendell Mason’s shortness of breath and other symptoms were diagnosed following a CT scan at Olathe Medical Center in 2006, Wendell and Beth traveled to Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital on April 17, 2006 for an examination by Dr. David Sugarbaker, an eminent surgeon and specialist in mesothelioma.

Dr. Sugarbaker later performed successful surgery to remove Wendell’s left lung, Beth said, but Wendell passed away eight months later from complications.

She said that her husband always kept himself in shape physically and never smoked. Before he retired in 2006, Wendell worked in grounds maintenance for the Olathe School District.

The couple’s daughters are Carmen Landreth and Shawna Walberg, both of Olathe, and their son is Trent Mason, of Atlanta.

Beth said that even after chemotherapy and radiation treatment at the University of Kansas Cancer Center in Westwood following the surgery, Wendell was feeling well enough to take a trip to Las Vegas over Thanksgiving weekend 2006 “to see his beloved KU Jayhawks basketball team play against Florida.”

However, Beth said, her husband began feeling bad in mid-December, and passed away soon thereafter.

Beth said that after Wendell underwent surgery, the couple interviewed several law firms about asbestos liability issues because of the alleged recklessness, irresponsibility and negligence of various employers and other companies in providing unsafe working conditions and making fatal asbestos exposure inevitable.

The couple selected the Simmons law firm of East Alton, Ill., a national leader in mesothelioma litigation. According to the Simmons firm, its attorneys have represented over 2,000 individuals and families affected by mesothelioma from throughout the country since 1999, recovering over $3 billion on their behalf.

Mike Angelides, managing partner, said the Simmons firm has over 200 attorneys and staff who are “passionate about helping victims and families, including supporting research for better treatment options and a cure.”

In an Internet interview, Angelides said Simmons recently pledged more than $10 million to the SimmonsCooper Cancer Institute at Southern Illinois University. Besides East Alton, the firm has offices in St. Louis, Chicago and Los Angeles.

“We’ve worked with thousands of families across the country, and I can tell you first-hand that a mesothelioma diagnosis is a devastating emotional and financial blow,” Angelides said. “While great strides have been made throughout the last decade on behalf of mesothelioma victims and their families, there is much work to be done.”

Angelides said that just as the country spends billions on asbestos cleanup, the nation continues to import and consume almost 2,000 metric tons per year of asbestos for use in everyday products.

“It’s an obvious and deadly contradiction,” Angelides said. “We need to encourage our nation’s leaders and lawmakers to stop the U.S. imports of known cancer-causing products. Past deaths were preventable. Importantly, future deaths are preventable. There’s more to do than clean up the mess. The poisoning must be stopped.”

Angelides said that litigation continues to be of critical importance to mesothelioma patients and families.

“It’s (litigation) not only a means of holding corporations accountable, but it also can give families the resources necessary to support the cross-country travel required for treatment, as well as giving peace of mind to those left behind.”

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