MTV Reality Star and HIV Activist, Sean Sasser, Dies From Mesothelioma

August 15, 2013  |  Mesothelioma

If you grew up in the MTV generation, then you probably know who Sean Sasser is. Sasser made TV history with his partner, Pedro Zamora, on MTV’s “The Real World: San Francisco.” Although Sasser was not part of the original cast, his same-sex commitment ceremony to Zamora was a TV first. Zamora’s public battle with AIDS and work in activism and education that he and Sasser did for the LGBT community also became part of TV history.

The two started dating during the taping of the series and quickly captivated the hearts of viewers around the world. Zamora passed away shortly after the series stopped filming. Sasser, who was also HIV positive, survived Zamora and continued working as an HIV activist and educator. Most recently, he worked as a pastry chef at RIS, a restaurant in Seattle, Washington, where he also lived with his longtime partner.

On Wednesday, August 8, Sasser passed away after a short battle with mesothelioma. He was 44 years old.  The HIV activist was diagnosed with stage four mesothelioma in July following a blood test in June showing an abnormality.

Many news outlets have reported on this tragic loss and remembered Sasser for the profound impact that Sasser and Zamora had on an entire generation. Although the cause of death is mentioned, no publication has delved into one very important issue: Sasser died of a preventable disease, and we aren’t talking about HIV/AIDS.

Mesothelioma is caused by asbestos exposure. The asbestos industry has known for decades about the deadly nature of their products (certainly for as long as Sasser’s 44 years), but asbestos continues to be used today.

Sasser was HIV positive, but groundbreaking advances in medications over the past decade have led the immunodeficiency disease to now be classified as a chronic disease – not a fatal one. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for mesothelioma.

It’s important to note that Sasser didn’t fit the typical profile of a mesothelioma patient. Because asbestos was a material prevalently used in construction and industrial work up until the 1970s, the “typical” patient is someone who worked with or around asbestos products. And of course the typical patient is also much older than 44.

Since Sasser was born in 1969 and never worked in construction, the fact that he was diagnosed with mesothelioma should be cause for concern, but nobody is talking about it. Why? Because the asbestos disease with the funny sounding name still isn’t understood by the majority of Americans. And Sasser’s diagnosis proves that anyone is susceptible to this horrible disease.

Mesothelioma is still one of the most difficult cancers for doctors to detect and treat. Even though several advancements in various therapies have been made, patients are still met with staggeringly low survival rates. Sasser devoted much of his life to advocating for HIV awareness, but the cancer advanced at such a rapid pace, was unable to do the same for the preventable asbestos disease.

As the country laments the passing of one of its most cherished HIV activists, it is important to recognize that there is still more work to be done. Sasser was a man who stood for something. He worked to educate others and help prevent the spread of HIV. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to rally for the prevention of the disease that ultimately led to his passing. So, in his memory and the memory of the thousands of others who have lost their lives to mesothelioma, we must all call for a global ban on asbestos.

The mesothelioma law firm of Baron and Budd gives its sincere condolences to the loved ones of Sasser and fervently supports a global ban on asbestos. To find out how you can take part in asking congress to ban asbestos, visit here.

In loving memory of Sean Sasser.

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