Julie Gundlach believes hers mesothelioma was likely triggered during a childhood hug with her father

10:04 AM, Sep 24, 2010   |    comments
Julie Gundlach and her father Gregg.
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St. Louis (KSDK) -- It's a rare type of cancer that usually hits older people.

But a 39 year old St. Louis wife and mother is battling it. And what's so shocking is that she likely got it from a hug.


"When I first got sick, what I thought was mesothelioma happened to people who worked with asbestos, and it seemed like the craziest thing," says Julie Gundlach of south St. Louis.

But Julie has since learned a lot about mesothelioma. It's a cancer of the tissue that lines the organs. And it's closely linked to exposure to asbestos fibers, even fibers unknowingly brought home by family members.

Julie believes hers mesothelioma was likely triggered during a childhood hug with her father.

"He worked around and with asbestos all the time," recalls Julie, "and as a commercial electrician he spent days crawling through insulation and ceilings and just becoming coated with it."

Gregg Gundlach died in 2005, just a year before Julie's diagnosis.

Her tumor developed in her abdomen. And she decided on aggressive treatment at Columbia University in New York.

For years, she traveled there for surgery, scans and chemotherapy. Her daughter Madeline was just three.

"The plus side to that is we would have lots of snuggle time she would crawl up in bed and we would watch movies or look at books," says Julie.

Julie believes she traveled to New York more than 25 times. She spent a total of three and a half months there.

But she chose aggressive treatment to give her a chance at a future with her daughter.

"I can't imagine her nine or ten without a mom," says Julie. "The high school graduation without a mom; I mean you can't even, I can't even wrap my mind around that. It was much easier to wrap my mind around packing my bags and going to New York."

Now, she's cancer free, helping to raise money for mesothelioma research and working to ban U.S. imports of products containing asbestos.

"My future, I don't know what it holds, but it will be long," says Julie. "It will be long and I am going to sit on my front porch very old in a rocking chair and probably yell at the kids on the street."

Julie will run in the second annual Miles for Meso 5-K fundraiser, Saturday, September 25 in downtown Alton.

It starts at 9 a.m. in the parking lot at 401 Alton Street.

It's sponsored by the Simmons Law Firm and last year more than 500 people participated.



Cases like Julie's are called "past paraoccupational exposures" by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).  These second-hand, or secondary exposures occured in family members of industrial workers. 

The CDC's Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry says, in the past, "because of a lack of proper industrial hygiene, asbestos workers went home covered in asbestos dust. The workers' families and other household contacts were then exposed via inhalation of asbestos dust

  • from workers' skin, hair, and clothing, and
  • during laundering of contaminated work clothes.

A mortality study of 878 household contacts of asbestos workers revealed that 4 out of 115 total deaths were from pleural mesothelioma and that the rate of deaths from all types of cancer was doubled (Joubert et al. 1991)"

To read more about secondary exposure to asbestos, and about other ways people were exposed to asbestos, click on the link to the CDC on this web page.



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