Fighting Mesothelioma Since 2019
A devoted husband, father, grandfather, and friend tells his story of a shocking diagnosis and the happy life he’s worked hard to create since.
Nevada resident John Stahl is used to building things. He spent decades in the construction industry doing commercial, industrial, and residential work.
He was looking forward to retirement to spend more time exploring the Nevada desert with his wife, Dee, and riding his bike and side-by-side (off-road vehicle).
But in summer 2019, John had to learn how to build something different: a game plan for survival after being diagnosed with mesothelioma, a rare and aggressive cancer caused by asbestos exposure.
Now, more than four years later, John is constructing a life of happiness, love, and adventure despite his mesothelioma diagnosis.
“Mesothelioma is going to end my life eventually,” John says. “But I’m going to live it as well as I can.”
You can read John’s full story — and the inspiring stories of other survivors — in our Free Mesothelioma Survivors Guide.
Hitting a Medical Speed Bump
On a hot morning in July 2019, John woke up with uncomfortable symptoms. Instead of his usual high energy and enthusiasm to greet the day, John felt fatigued and scared. His face was pale, and he couldn’t catch his breath.
“I just didn’t feel good,” John recalls. John was not the type to call out sick. He notes that he “always worked,” and spending 43 years in the construction business made him resilient.
But Dee urged him to get medical attention.
At the urgent care center, the medical team took X-rays of John’s lungs. They were alarmed when they couldn’t even see John’s left lung on the X-ray because it was surrounded by two liters worth of fluid.
“They were amazed he was even able to breathe,” Dee said.
From there, the Stahls followed up with their family doctor, who then referred John to an oncologist. A CT scan showed the devastating answer to John’s symptoms.
On August 19, 2019, John was diagnosed with stage 4 pleural mesothelioma, a type of mesothelioma that forms in the lining of the lungs. Despite being diagnosed in the most advanced stage of the disease, John was determined to fight.
The Bittersweetness of Treatment
After he was diagnosed, John began his mesothelioma treatment plan of chemotherapy every two weeks.
Each chemotherapy session lasted about an hour, but the side effects lasted much longer.
After each treatment, John would be physically exhausted for over a week. He wouldn’t have the energy to leave his home or do things he enjoyed.
All of this forced downtime took a toll on John, who wasn’t used to spending so much time at home. “That was hard for me because I’m a pretty active person,” he shared.
But through it all, John maintained a sense of hope and optimism as he pushed through his treatments. Looking forward to his future helped carry him through the bitterness and discomfort of chemotherapy.
“I can’t think of a day that John has said, ‘Oh, feel sorry for me.’ His positive attitude has kept him going, and I think that helps his health,” shared Dee.
Fortunately, John eventually began feeling physically well again. His optimistic outlook started matching his energy levels, and he was able to return to his active lifestyle.
“I’m doing very well, as a matter of fact. I play golf twice a week. I ride the side-by-side. I go hang out with my friends when they’re around. Yeah, I’m pretty well back to normal.”
Hope in a Rare Love Story
More than once in his life, John has defied the odds to find his happiness.
He and Dee met and dated throughout the 1970s but ended up parting ways. They each carried on with their lives, married different partners, and had children. Eventually, both of their marriages ended.
In 2008, they were both single and unexpectedly reunited in a beer garden at an arts festival in Utah. Sparks flew instantly, they were married shortly after, and the pair have been happily together since.
Dee shared that aside from the day her son was born, her happiest memory is when she connected with John again.
“Now I’m getting emotional,” Dee confessed. “John always held a special place in my heart.”
John won’t let his diagnosis define him. Now that he is feeling healthy enough for his active lifestyle, he and Dee prioritize having fun and spending time with family and friends.
To date, the couple has explored natural wonders across Nevada. They’ve visited the Valley of Fire State Park and hiked across the Logandale Trails System.
They have a solid group of friends — they call them their “snowbird friends” — and ride all over the desert with them. The group of friends has explored Red Rock landscapes in Moab, Utah, and the Arizona Strip.
“My dream life is now. I’m living my dream. Being retired, having John able to do things and be happy. John’s a very positive guy. He makes you happy.”
John and Dee have four adult children and a granddaughter, who John got to see pursue her master’s degree in Oklahoma. They savor the simple, everyday moments with their blended family. They also love animals and consider themselves “aunt and uncle” to a shih tzu named Lily.
“It’s just good to be happy,” John said. Dee agrees, adding: “We’re happy people.”
Taking the Bull by the Horns
Along with the physical and financial strain that accompanied John’s diagnosis and treatment, he was emotionally gutted to learn that it was his job that made him sick.
Specifically, the asbestos used in the building materials he handled every day for 40+ years put him at risk of developing mesothelioma many years later.
“I didn’t know what to think. I didn’t realize that my job had exposed me to asbestos,” he said.
He and Dee knew early on they wanted to pursue a mesothelioma lawsuit when they discovered his cancer could have been prevented.
“We filed a mesothelioma lawsuit to hold companies accountable. … I don’t know how these people slept at night, knowing people were being exposed to asbestos, poisoning their bodies. They need to pay anyone who’s been affected by this.”
John said having Dee by his side during this time was “indescribable.” He said she “took the bull by the horns” and hired top mesothelioma law firm Simmons Hanly Conroy to handle his case.
John’s lawsuit ended in a settlement and the Stahls found much-needed peace of mind once the checks started to come in.
“You can take care of your children,” John said. “It’s just nice to know that there’s something there for them.”
Read more mesothelioma survivor stories like John’s and learn about free legal resources available to you in our Mesothelioma Survivors Guide.