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Asbestos Pox Claims Lives Of Mary Andera's Husband And Oldest Br

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Losing one member of a family to mesothelioma is a tragedy. Losing two is unthinkably tragic, like a curse. This is the story of a woman, Mary Andera, who lost both her brother and her husband to mesothelioma within a span of two years. She wonders whether there is an asbestos curse upon her family.

In January, of 1994, Richard Andera underwent a chest CT and a needle biopsy at the Group Health Clinic in Tacoma, Washington. Pathologists diagnosed mesothelioma. He was 53 years old at the time of diagnosis.

Richard's case was then presented to the Tumor Board and their recommendations were to treat the tumor with preoperative chemotherapy which included carbo-platinum as a single agent and radiation therapy. The results of the treatments showed some modest shrinkage of the tumor. The doctors then felt that the time was right for resection. On April 4, 1994, Mr. Andera had a partial resection of the left lung. The diagnosis was sarcomatoid mesothelioma. Dr. Sam Hammar, an oncologist with the Diagnostic Specialities Laboratory in Bremerton, Washington, and a member of the United States/Canada Mesothelioma Board, confirmed the diagnosis using immunohistochemistry.

According to his wife Mary, "Richard was numb after diagnosis. He had never heard of mesothelioma. The doctors had to explain it to him. He couldn't believe it. He was in denial. He believed he would survive and beat the odds." Richard was a boiler tender in the US Navy and a boilermaker and shipfitter an various shipyards in the Seattle-Tacoma area.

Mr. Andera embraced the challenge. He underwent chemotherapy using high-dose adriamycin and cisplatinum. His treatments were completed in the fall of 1994. Unfortunately, the tumors did not respond. Richard had exhausted the medical options presented to him. Mary describes their state of mind during this difficult period: "After surgery and chemo and radiation, it wasn't looking very good. Sometimes at night Richard would cry in my arms. He never cried before, except when our grandson Jacob was born. He loved Jacob so much. One of the things he grieved about most was knowing that wouldn't be able to be a granddad much longer for Jacob."

From April, 1995 to May, Robert was on a morphine drip 24 hours a day. He had three ports in his chest to insert the catheter. He was also on oxygen.

A hospital bed was placed in the living room of the Andera home. Richard's son Edward moved in with his mother and father to help take care of Richard. As Richard's health deteriorated, he had bouts of forgetfulness that were likely induced by the pain medication. Son Edward recalls,

"In early May, my father at times started losing his awareness. Sometimes he could no longer remember my mother. Or he would eat imaginary food. The part that I have had the most problem handling was towards the very end when my Dad didn't know who I was and he wouldn't let me near him. He would fight me off. My presence would just upset him so I had to stay away from my own father..."

Richard Andera died on May 10, 1995 of metastatic sarcomatoid mesothelioma. He was 54 years old.

Richard was an active and involved citizen. He continued to coach little league baseball after his son Edward grew older, "I was hooked." He was proud of the fact that his teams were both competitive and had fun. Richard was also an above average bowler who was a member of a bowling league and competed regularly in tournaments. According to his longtime bowling partner, Mr. Wes Cote,

" Andy was a very happy, jovial man, with a heart of gold. He was always there to help anyone in need. Even during his illness he would think of others rather than himself. What really bothered him was that he would not see his grandson grow up."

The Anderas are a very close family. It was a long time before Mary could get used to Richard no longer being there for her. "For several months after he died, whenever I read or heard something exciting, I would run into the living room to where Richard usually sat to tell him about it. That's when it would hit me the hardest that he was gone, that I'd never be able to share and laugh with my husband again." Mary is now 51. It is very difficult for her to imagine life with anyone else.

Edward Andera is still affected by his father's death.

" I was talking to my mother on the phone.....when I heard a terrible sounding scream....a scream so loud it could be heard outside of the house. My thought was I wish I could destroy this person that made asbestos that my Dad was suffering from . . . along with having to watch my father die I had to watch my mother watch someone she loved for more than 20 years die. I still experience nightmares of my Dad screaming in pain and pushing me away, so even knowing my father's been dead for 2 years I feel I'm still paying the price for what this substance did to him."

Marion Gesinger and Mary Andera

Unfortunately, her husband's death was not the last time that Mary had to cope with the destruction wrought by mesothelioma. On July 9, 1996, just two years after her husband had died from mesothelioma, Mary Andera's oldest brother, Robert Gesinger, was also diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma. Robert Gesinger, like Mary's husband Richard worked around boilers in the shipyards in Bremerton, Washington.

Robert Gesinger died on June 11, 1997. Robert attended Richard Andera's funeral. Now Mary had to summon the courage to attend yet another funeral.

Mary has tried to make sense out of what has happened to her husband and her brother. "Sometimes I wonder if there's a curse on my family. Like an `asbestos pox or plague.' Asbestos killed my husband and took my oldest brother. I used to wash Richard's clothes when he worked at the shipyards in Tacoma. He would sometimes come home caked in dust. I try not to think about what might happen to me."

Mary spends a lot of time with Marion Gesinger, her sister in law. They both console each other and motivate each other to move on.

"It's just such a jolt. I remember how nice my brother was to me at Robert's funeral. Then, a few years later, he dies of the same thing. It's worse than a nightmare, because it happened."

*** POSTED MARCH 3, 1998 ***