Growing up in Orlando, Florida, Cheyanne Holzworth-Bany saw her father as her best friend. “He was my best friend, my confident, my biggest supporter and fan,” she recently told the Mesothelioma + Asbestos Awareness Center. “I was truly a daddy’s girl and my father’s world revolved around me.”
For Cheyanne, her father embodied everything that a man should be. “He was a simple man who was content playing a round of golf, cooking dinner, baking treats, grilling out, and taking multiple naps. He was loyal, wise, unconditionally loving, young at heart, carefree, strong willed – and strongly opinionated.
“To know him was to love him.”
So when Cheyanne’s father – William Andrew Holzworth – was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a rare and extremely deadly form of cancer caused by asbestos exposure, she was understandably devastated.
Chronic Pneumonia Becomes Something More
In 2012, William found himself in the hospital after having pneumonia. He underwent a procedure to drain fluid from his lungs, not for the first time. “He had this surgery two times prior,” Cheyanne explained to MAA Center, “and we had expected the surgery to go just as smoothly as the previous times. They drain his lungs, quickly recovers in the hospital, and I take him home.”
But something was different about this procedure than the previous ones. “Unfortunately, the third time is not the charm,” Cheyanne said.
After the surgery to drain William’s lungs, Cheyanne was informed by her father’s doctors that they had some “unpleasant news” to tell them. “They told my father and I that he had pleural mesothelioma. I will remember the weight of those words for the rest of my life.”
At first Cheyanne was not sure what this new development entailed. “I immediately asked what exactly that diagnosis meant, and the doctors told us it was terminal. Through tears and a refusal to believe what they were saying, I asked how long they thought he had to live and what treatments were available.”
The doctors told her that there were no treatments, and they gave William a prognosis of a year at best. Cheyanne refused to believe them.
“I looked at my father and vowed we would beat mesothelioma,” she told MAA Center. “I swore to him I would find every available avenue, treatment, trial, anything. We would beat this thing I knew virtually nothing about.”
Learning About Asbestos and Mesothelioma
Before William’s diagnosis, Cheyanne had been vaguely aware of mesothelioma, but did not know much about the deadly disease. “I was one of those people who only knew about mesothelioma from the legal advertisements on TV,” she recalled, “up until my father started to get sick and was convinced he had mesothelioma.”
William, however, had been more aware of the possibility of developing mesothelioma. “He suffered from pneumonia chronically in the winter and he knew what mesothelioma was,” Cheyanne remembered. “He tried to tell doctors that he thought he had mesothelioma, but no one believed him – or looked hard enough to find the evidence in his lungs.
“I looked into the disease before my father was diagnosed and saw it was from asbestos exposure. I thought, maybe he could have it, since he did work aboard submarines in the Navy.” However, given her own lack of knowledge about the disease, Cheyanne did not press the matter. “I wasn’t a doctor, and I certainly couldn’t diagnose him.”
Unfortunately, many veterans like William develop mesothelioma due to the large amounts of asbestos that has been used in the construction of military ships, airplanes, and vehicles. So many veterans have come down with the disease that the Veterans Benefits Association has established a compensation system for veterans who were exposed to asbestos during their service.
As a naval technician, William almost certainly was exposed to asbestos during his time in the military. “My father was a sonarman in the Navy,” Cheyanne explained to the MAA Center. “He was exposed while honorably serving this country aboard a submarine.” However, his military career was not the only place where exposure may have occurred. “He was also an engineer after serving in the Navy and was frequently exposed on construction sites,” Cheyanne added.
In light of her father’s illness, Cheyanne wants to make sure people know that mesothelioma exists, and anyone could be at risk of developing the deadly cancer if they are exposed to asbestos. “I hope people realize that mesothelioma can happen to you or someone you love,” she said. “It is not just an ‘ambulance chaser’ advertisement on TV. It is very real. There is no cure.”
“And the sad part is,” she continued, “asbestos is still being used in the United States today, despite all the deaths it has caused.”
Staying Strong Despite Circumstances
After his diagnosis, William moved in with Cheyanne and her husband. “I spent every available moment trying to learn everything I could about mesothelioma, and eventually I quit my job to care for him,” Cheyanne revealed to MAA Center. “Unfortunately for my dad, he didn’t qualify for any trials or radiation, because his mesothelioma was too far advanced. The best anyone could do for him was a few rounds of chemotherapy, which he underwent.”
Though the experience was rough on the family, Cheyanne found that she was able to take on the challenge. “A few things surprised me,” she stated, “but what surprised me most was how strong I am. I learned I truly am my father’s daughter. I wasn’t sure I had the capability or emotional strength to care for someone with a terminal illness, but I did and it came naturally and easily.”
“I was also surprised at how quickly someone you love can be ripped from your life,” she added. “I learned to never take life for granted. Each moment spent here on earth is truly precious.”
Sadly, William did not last long against the disease, passing away only five months after diagnosis. “I will spend the rest of my life wondering what could have been if he had been diagnosed sooner. How could the doctors have missed the disease so many times when operating on his lungs? Unfortunately, I will also spend the rest of my life without my father, who was my best friend and biggest supporter.”
Thinking back on the time now, Cheyanne says she learned some powerful lessons from her father, even right up to the end.
“The best advice I ever received from my father was, ‘You only have one life to live, so live it to the fullest.’ After he passed away, I realized just how right he was, and just how precious life is.”
“He also use to always tell me to stop talking about doing things and take action,” Cheyanne added. “Go do them.”
Her father’s words motivated Cheyanne to pursue her own dreams of creating a cooking blog, something she had been yearning to do for some time. “He knew I wanted to start a food blog for years, and after he passed away I finally started one – No Spoon Necessary. Every time I take a photograph, develop a recipe, or write a post I think of him.”
Awareness About Asbestos Is the Answer
Cheyanne now lives in a small town in North Carolina that she says was her father’s favorite city in the country. She keeps herself busy by continuing to write recipes and build her blog, but she has not lost sight about dangers of asbestos or the importance of informing others about the perils the toxic substance poses.
“I think awareness is the most important thing when it comes to banning asbestos,” she explained. “Most people know what asbestos is, and they have heard the word mesothelioma, but they are under the false impression that this country no longer uses it.”
“Making people aware of the fact that asbestos is not banned in the US is the first step in moving towards a full ban,” Cheyanne added. “Not to sound cliché, but knowledge is power.”