Athletes Who Battled a Mesothelioma Diagnosis


Each year in the United States, about 3,000 individuals get diagnosed with mesothelioma, a relatively rare form of cancer. But the disease doesn’t occur immediately, and a person’s average age upon diagnosis of pleural (chest) mesothelioma is 72.

Despite mesothelioma being a rare cancer type, it can still affect anyone, regardless of status or occupation.

The Mesothelioma Group website provides an informative source of knowledge for mesothelioma stages, diagnosis, and treatment options.

Who are some of the famous athletes who battled mesothelioma? How did they acquire the condition?

This article lists the four famous athletes and describes their experience while battling mesothelioma. This article also discusses the leading causes of mesothelioma among these individuals.

4 Famous Athletes Diagnosed With Mesothelioma

Here are four famous athletes, including one runner, two football players, and an Olympic medalist, diagnosed with mesothelioma and their experience with the condition:

Tom Kaisersatt

In 2008, Tom Kaiseratt participated in and finished the Silicon Valley Marathon, a 26.2-mile (42.2-kilometer) race. He was 68 years old at that time and was undergoing mesothelioma treatment.

Kaiseratt was a veteran marathoner who had finished over 150 marathons and founded the San Jose Fit program for training marathon runners and walkers. His past trainees describe him as a supportive and ideal coach, regardless of how long they took to finish the race.

At the time of the competition, Kaiseratt was undergoing chemotherapy for pleural mesothelioma due to asbestos exposure.

Pleural mesothelioma affects the tissue surrounding the lungs and causes symptoms like painful coughing and shortness of breath.

Despite his weakened state and diminished lung capacity, Kaiseratt was determined to run the race.

His friends and former trainees asked permission from marathon organizers to let him run a part of the race weeks before the actual event. He would then complete the last five miles during the official competition by running with the members of his San Jose Fit organization.

Kaiseratt died in 2010, and his memorial was held on September 25, 2010.

Paul Gleason

Paul Gleason was a former athlete and famous actor well-known for playing unlikeable characters, primarily white-collar criminals.

He died in 2006 from pleural mesothelioma, which he believed he contracted from asbestos exposure while working on construction sites as a teenager.

Starting his acting career in the 1960s, Gleason appeared in around 140 films and television shows. Some of his notable appearances were in Die Hard and The Breakfast Club.

Before beginning his acting career, Gleason was a football player at Florida State University (FSU). Afterward, he signed a professional contract to play baseball with the Cleveland Indians.

Gleason might not have been a runner, but his sports involved a considerable amount of running.

Still, runners who may have had past asbestos exposure, as Gleason had been, should consider the possibility of contracting mesothelioma and consult a doctor for a diagnosis immediately.

Merlin Olsen

Merlin Olsen was a professional football player who played with the Los Angeles Rams from 1962 to 1976 and was inducted in 1982 into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. After retiring from his sports career, he continued to be active as a sports commentator and later as a television actor.

In 2009, Olsen got diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma and underwent three chemotherapy rounds. Less than one year after his diagnosis, he died at 69.

Peritoneal mesothelioma affects the abdominal tissues and causes symptoms that include abdominal pain, nausea, and unexplained weight loss.

Before his death, Olsen filed a lawsuit against numerous businesses, including several media companies, for allegedly exposing him to asbestos.

He and his family believed the exposure came from inhaling asbestos fibers during his acting career. However, he also mentioned being exposed to asbestos as a child when he did after-school manual labor and later as an adult performing drywall work.

Olsen’s case is an example of getting mesothelioma but symptoms don’t immediately manifest after asbestos exposure. It can take many years before the person gets diagnosed with the disease.

Terry McCann

Terrence McCann, who also goes by Terry McCann, was a wrestling gold medalist during the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome. He also enjoyed other sports like biking and surfing.

Before his Olympic stint, McCann worked in an oil refinery in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he allegedly got exposed to asbestos fibers.

While preparing for the Olympics, he’d often come home with asbestos dust on his hair and clothes, unaware of the risk to his health.

It took more than 40 years after his Olympic victory, coaching, business career, and fitness regimen promotion before he got diagnosed with mesothelioma. Afterward, he became an outspoken critic of the asbestos industry and sued several companies, primarily due to product liability involving the hazardous mineral.

In 2006, McCann died from mesothelioma at 72 years old in California. Like Olsen’s case, the symptoms and diagnosis can occur years or decades after the initial asbestos exposure.

What’s the Leading Cause of Mesothelioma Among Athletes?

As shown from the cases of athletes in the previous section, most mesothelioma cases occur due to asbestos exposure.

This exposure usually happens during the early years of an athlete’s life or before they start their athletic careers. Many athletes who develop mesothelioma have worked in industries or jobs involving asbestos.

Occupations with a high exposure risk to asbestos fibers include:

  • Asbestos miners
  • Brake mechanics
  • Electricians
  • Home remodelers
  • Insulators
  • Plumbers
  • Shipyard workers

Asbestos is a mineral you can find naturally in the environment. When asbestos breaks up, it produces dust that humans can inhale or swallow. These fibers can settle in the lungs or stomach and irritate these organs, causing mesothelioma.

Scientists are still figuring out how exactly asbestos causes mesothelioma. It usually takes about 20 to 60 years before mesothelioma develops after asbestos exposure.

This time frame can make it difficult to determine how the condition progresses from initial exposure. Hence, researchers still need to perform more studies.

If you’re an athlete or know someone active in sports who may have a history of asbestos exposure, consider visiting a doctor for a diagnosis.


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