Forensic Sculptor Now Faces Mesothelioma Diagnosis

Philadelphia Inquirer—A forensic sculptor whose work has helped to solve a number of crimes has been diagnosed with the deadly cancer mesothelioma.

Frank Bender has worked for over 30 years to recreate the faces of crime victims, often working form old photos or even from the remains of the victim, in clay. Although he has no formal forensic or artistic training, his gift has impressed the host of America’s Most Wanted, John Walsh, as well as law enforcement authorities across the nation. Working with Walsh, Bender helped to capture John List, one of the FBI’s most-wanted criminals who had been on the lam for 18 years after killing his mother, wife and children.

Bender, 68, most likely contracted his mesothelioma when he served in the Navy, working on the destroyer escort Calcaterra during the 1950s and 1960s. Many Navy veterans are at risk for mesothelioma, which is caused by exposure to asbestos, due to the high incidence of asbestos use aboard ships. The cramped, poorly ventilated engine rooms, boiler rooms and even the sleeping quarters would have been contaminated with the toxic dust until late in the 20th Century, when regulations regarding asbestos use began to be enacted.

Asbestos is composed of microscopic, yet needle-sharp, fibers which can be inhaled and ingested. Once inside the body, they take up residence in the mesothelium, a vulnerable membrane which surrounds the lungs, stomach and heart. They can affect the cells’ DNA, causing them to replicate erratically and become malignant. There is no cure for this rare cancer, although it can be treated with chemotherapy, radiation therapy and, in the earlier stages, surgery.

Bender has chosen not to undergo any treatment for the cancer, because of the side effects that would accompany the traditional therapies.

The life expectancy for an average mesothelioma patient is very short—usually fewer than 18 months. Because this cancer has a long latency period, it may not develop until decades after the exposure to asbestos took place. Bender, like many patients, had no inkling he had contracted the disease until long after the fact.

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