Understanding the impact of asbestos:

Jim Casselman’s story

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On October 7, 2005, Jim Casselman, his wife Erica and two sons, Ivan and Graham, received some unexpected and shattering news — that Jim had mesothelioma. It was news that would hurl the family into emotional turmoil, profound fear, and a journey that would, as they all knew, lead to losing Jim.

Jim's mesothelioma was linked to asbestos exposure, traced back to a junior high school in Salmon Arm where he taught shop, math, and computer science. The school was renovated in the late 1970s, which stirred up the asbestos behind the walls. Sadly, says Erica, "All it takes is the inhalation of one asbestos fibre."

New chapter

After a long and distinguished career as a teacher — a profession Jim loved — he retired in 2003, energetic, enthusiastic, and passionate about starting a new chapter in his life. One of his many interests, inspired by his sons' competitive swimming, was Jim's attempt to become a high-level Masters swimmer. Erica, not to be left out, joined Jim in his adventure. Together, they swam and competed for several years — which ultimately led them both to compete at the World Masters Games in Edmonton, in July 2005. It was there they experienced a foreshadowing of Jim’s illness. "As we were training, Jim would sometimes say, 'I just can't understand why I get so short of breath.'"

At the Games, Jim participated in six events. Though setting a personal record in the 200-metre freestyle event, Erica remembers, "Jim was short of breath and visibly struggling." After the Games, Jim and Erica returned to Salmon Arm where Jim came down with what he thought was a routine cold — an illness he never overcame. By mid-September, when Jim returned to training at the pool, he experienced a severe pain in his right side. A chest X-ray would reveal the cavity between his right lung and rib cage was filled with fluid. Less than a month later, Jim received his diagnosis.

Family bonds

In the wake of this devastating news, the lifeline that provided strength and guidance came from knowledgeable, caring, and very compassionate medical and Sensitive Claims teams.

During his illness, Jim underwent the six chemotherapy treatments standard for mesothelioma along with a talc pleurodesis followed by a pleurectomy. After his final chemotherapy treatment in April 2006, Jim went into a brief remission, which ended in early December 2006.

This precious time was a gift to Jim and his family. They recognized the urgency of educating themselves and trying to understand, physically, emotionally, and spiritually, the impending finality of Jim's life resulting from this diagnosis. Never giving up hope, together they plunged into the final chapter of Jim's life. For Jim it was, "not a dress rehearsal," since "you only get once chance at dying." During this time of sadness, suffering, and insightful living, Jim generously invited his family and close friends to join him.

Together they appreciated the joys of family activities such as hiking, sailing, camping, and family gatherings. But most importantly, the Casselmans used this time to engage in family counselling — sharing their tears and pain, and learning the importance of practicing deeper compassion towards one another. It was a time of great discovery. Together, the Casselmans learned to listen, understand acts of simple kindness, and appreciate the simplicity of life. By teaching us these insightful "life gifts," says Erica, they "were all able to learn from Jim’s experience."

Jim's own grief was profound. He viewed his life, which ended on April 15, 2007, as one not fully lived. He wanted to see his sons experience the same depth of love he had with Erica. He wanted to experience being a grandfather. And, he wanted to continue his love affair with Erica, who he met so many years earlier on a lake in the Kootenays. In his words: "I'm just not done loving you."

Jim Casselman