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CARBONDALE - There are about 2,000 new cases of the asbestos-linked cancer mesothelioma diagnosed in the United States every year, according to the National Cancer Institute.

And while that's a rare rate of occurrence, it's not rare enough for one local resident and her mother, who are fighting to ban asbestos use and make Sept. 26 Mesothelioma Awareness Day both in Illinois and across the country.

Lacey Caraway was diagnosed with mesothelioma in December 2005. And while she's been in remission since March 2006, she and her mother, Janet Graeff, are working to make everyone aware of the disease's dangers.

The pair says awareness about the disease and the asbestos which causes it are keys to saving lives.

"When we got the diagnosis, we had no idea what the cause was, no idea where it came from and the terrifying thing was they had no idea if there was any treatment," said Graeff. "It was unbelievable to me that in this day and age, you couldn't find out anything about this."

Fortunately, Caraway's family physician and her surgeon helped get her in touch with doctors in St. Louis who helped her locate some of the world's foremost mesothelioma experts.

Caraway said she underwent three surgeries and six rounds of chemotherapy. While she is in remission, the disease has become a part of her life.

"The outlook is that there is a possibility of it coming back and becoming malignant again and there is a possibility of it spreading and my life span being shorter," she said. "Unfortunately, it's a painful disease, so I am on a (battery) of pain management medication. If I don't have that, I can't function."

Graeff said Sept. 26 was chosen because it is the wedding anniversary of a Pennsylvania widow who took up a similar effort there when her husband died from mesothelioma.

Caraway and Graeff have two "Mesothelioma Day" efforts underway.

At the national level, Graeff said, she and her daughter "are trying to get a bill through to congress to ban asbestos; the Senate passed their version unanimously in October of 2007; the House version is currently held up in committee." In Illinois, the pair has asked Murphysboro Republican Mike Bost to help shepherd their resolution through the state's General Assembly.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich has already proclaimed Sept. 26 Mesothelioma Awareness Day, but the resolution Bost is presenting on behalf of Graeff and Caraway would make the designation permanent.

"I don't think it will have any problems," Bost said of the legislation's prospects.

"When Lacey first showed up with this, our local doctors didn't recognized it. This (the day naming effort) is about awareness," Bost said.


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