Kalamazoo, MI—The Kalamazoo County commissioner recently announced that he has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, the deadly asbestos-related cancer, and that he will be taking a leave of absence from his position in order to undergo treatment for the disease.
Grady Biby, a 20-year Navy veteran, worked on board nuclear submarines for most of his military career. He believes that his exposure to the asbestos-containing insulation surrounding the submarines’ valves and pipes is what caused the rare asbestos cancer.
Asbestos was once widely used as an insulating material, since it is extremely strong and durable, as well as highly resistant to damage from heat, fire, salt water and other chemical and biological processes. The United States military actually mandated the use of asbestos in shipyards and on Navy ships for a period of time. Any service member who worked aboard a Navy ship or submarine, or in a shipyard, between the World War II era and the 1980s has likely experienced some asbestos exposure.
Microscopic asbestos fibers can be breathed in, where they become lodged in the soft tissue called the mesothelium, which helps protect the body’s organs, particularly the heart, lungs and stomach. They can then begin to develop into mesothelioma, lung cancer, pleural plaques or asbestosis.
Repeated or prolonged exposure to asbestos increases a person’s chances of contracting pleural mesothelioma or peritoneal mesothelioma or another asbestos-related disease. One of the most devastating aspects of these cancers is that they have a long latency period – meaning that they may not become symptomatic, and therefore may not be diagnosed, until years or even decades after the exposure to asbestos took place. Additionally, the symptoms of mesothelioma, such as wheezing, chest pain, difficulty breathing or coughing, tend to mimic the symptoms of other common pleural diseases such as emphysema and COPD. A number of cases of mesothelioma, therefore, are not properly diagnosed or diagnosed in time to make treatment a viable option. Although research into treatments is ongoing, there is currently no cure for mesothelioma.
Biby will undergo surgery to have his right lung removed, as well as chemotherapy treatments. He plans to return to the county board meetings as soon as he returns from Boston, where the surgery and follow-up care will take place.