This month, one of our very own Meso Warriors is being honored by the New Jersey Work Environment Council for her mesothelioma advocacy. Nine-year meso survivor Bonnie Anderson is being recognized with a distinguished group of honorees including Lisa Jackson, the Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Congressman Frank Pallone of NJ’s 6th Congressional District. Bonnie was chosen for “raising awareness about asbestos-caused mesothelioma by getting bills passed in New Jersey and Congress to designate September 26 as Mesothelioma Awareness Day and for winning a landmark lawsuit against ExxonMobil for secondhand exposure to asbestos.”
Bonnie was diagnosed with malignant peritoneal mesothelioma in 2002 after an excruciating year of testing and examination. Given her training as a middle school librarian, Bonnie immediately put her skills to work researching meso treatment options. In nine years, she has undergone six surgeries, multiple rounds of chemotherapy and radiation. Her activist spirit has served her well as she has worked to raise awareness about mesothelioma, and battle her insurance company to cover her treatments.
At one point, Bonnie, her husband John, and her daughter Darcy mounted a major campaign to get the coverage she needed to participate in a clinical trial. They contacted their senators, congress-people, the governor’s office, and the Department of Banking and Insurance. Bonnie connected with the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services who helped her find the resources to make her case. After directing letters, documentation, and phone calls from both her surgeon and her primary physician to the insurance company, Bonnie was able to speak with a director and the appeals board of the insurance company, telling them that without treatment she would die. The appeals board said they would “take her case into consideration,” but it was shockingly denied. Finally, after her surgeon spoke with the state level director of the insurance company, at last the company acquiesced, agreeing to cover treatment partially at first, then completely with just a co-pay. Bonnie’s perseverance and spirit ensured that she could access the care she needed.
Bonnie knows the importance of raising awareness, and uses her voice to educate her community about mesothelioma. She has secured proclamations of Mesothelioma Awareness Day in Union County, NJ and the state of New Jersey; as well as playing a pivotal role in having Mesothelioma Awareness Day recognized by both chambers (House and Senate) of the U.S. Congress. Bonnie gives presentations at local rotary clubs about mesothelioma, her own journey and what is being done to combat the disease. Her work with the New Jersey Work Environment Council includes presentations before the President’s Cancer Council on the Work Environment and circulating petitions to ban asbestos. For her next project, she has agreed to represent Meso patients in the National Health Council’s Patient Story Project, where her story will be included with other examples of people with chronic conditions to be used for advocacy.
Bonnie is a strong voice for meso patients and has accomplished great things. Bonnie says her strength and advocacy would not be possible without the support of her husband John, who she says “has always been the best caregiver and support, along with being an advocate with me.”