All David Dioguardi wanted was his superhero cape.
The Mt. Greenwood resident, bracing for surgery as he began his fight against mesothelioma about four years ago, was talking in his sleep, his daughter said, and he wanted to look like Superman.
So, about a week later, when his family gathered for a family photo, they made sure he wore that Superman cape.
On Aug. 22, Dioguardi, 74, provided inspiration for the Mesothelioma Heroes Foundation’s second annual “I Know a Superhero” Family Fun Festival at St. Christina Field in Mt. Greenwood.
Hundreds celebrated at the event, raising funds to fight a cancer has a low survival rate and is often caused by inhaling asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral fiber used in a variety of building construction materials for insulation and as a fire retardant.
Dioguardi, a former police officer, was given only four months to live when he was diagnosed in September 2011, his family said, but he hasn’t given in. Despite battling other health issues along with mesothelioma, he was as chipper as ever at the fest, donning a teal superhero cape that was a symbol of his strength in dealing with the disease.
“His cape has been working,” said his daughter, Domani Tripam. “Look where he is.”
Defiance—and the care of doctors at the University of Chicago—have kept Dioguardi going, his family said. He refuses to be pessimistic in dealing with his prognosis.
“They told him he had four months, and he said, ‘That’s bull. I’m not putting up with that. I got things I want to do. I want to spend more time with my family.’ So he just said, ‘I’m not listening to that,’” Tripam said. “They gave him that timeline once, and after that, he said, ‘I never want to hear another timeline.’ He just lives every day, and he says, ‘I keep living my life.’”
Others battling mesothelioma, as well as family and friends of those who lost their lives to the disease, also attended the event, which included live music and a softball tournament. Proceeds, organizers said, will be donated to the University of Chicago Medicine’s mesothelioma program and the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization.
Dioguardi has eight daughters, and they have rallied together to make a difference, according to Dr. Hedy Kindler, who works at the University of Chicago.
“Seeing people like this who are trying to raise money for our research to try to help advance the cause of treatment and hopefully [find] a cure, it’s just really inspiring,” Kindler said. “It’s wonderful.”
According to cancer.net, about 3,000 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma each year nationwide, and the average survival time after surgery is 12-21 months. About 5-10 percent of patients live at least five years after diagnosis.
Stephanie Ohse, of Crestwood, lost her husband, Rory, a former police officer, to mesothelioma on Aug. 25, 2014, almost exactly a year before the festival.
In an emotional scene, Dioguardi presented Ohse with her own superhero cape. For Ohse, raising awareness is vital. She is concerned that not enough people know about the disease, and when people are diagnosed, the disease has already spread too far, leaving doctors few options.
“They do what they can, but it’s almost too late,” Ohse said.
Fred Riebel, 55, who lives near Midway Airport, began battling mesothelioma in January, he said, but that didn’t stop him from playing in the event’s softball tournament.
While he certainly wasn’t happy to see that others must battle the disease, he was grateful for such a big turnout.
“It’s good to be around people who know what I’m going through,” he said, “and it’s good to feel the support of a lot of people.”
Riebel, a former union insulator, invited about 40 coworkers to attend the event, he said, and he received well wishes from his opponents on the softball field during the tournament.
He had a concise response in showing his gratitude.
“I told them … nobody won that tournament but me.”
Despite his condition, Riebel remains optimistic, hoping that a cure will be found—for his sake and the sake of others.
“Hopefully we can get something going so somebody else doesn’t have to go through this,” he said. “The sooner we nip it in the bud, the better off everybody will be.”
Another concern for Riebel, however, is that his son worked alongside him and may have been exposed to asbestos. Most mesothelioma patients are in their 60s, but Riebel is proof that it can occur in people of a younger age.
“Asbestos doesn’t card you,” he said.
A benefit will be held for Riebel on Sept. 12 at 115 Bourbon Street. For details, visit fighting4fred.com.
Events like the family fun festival are making an impact around the country. Linda Reinstein, a California resident, has teamed up with the Dioguardi Family to fight the disease, which took her husband Alan’s life more than nine years ago.
The pain and grief were “overwhelming,” Reinstein said, and she felt alone. That’s no longer the case.
“It’s exciting to know that there’s a larger community all supporting each other,” Reinstein said. “But everybody believes that education is critically important. Because for now, prevention is the only cure.”
In another emotional moment at the fest, the Dioguardi Family presented her with a “superhero plaque,” acknowledging the work she has done for their cause.
Like other organizers, she is adamant that people proceed with caution when working around asbestos. She’s also keeping an upbeat attitude.
“When you hear ‘prevention,’ think ‘asbestos,’” Reinstein said, “and remember, there’s hope.”
To make a donation to the Mesothelioma Heroes Foundation, visit the Web site at mesoheroes.org. Checks payable to “Meso Heroes” can be mailed to the Mesothelioam Heroes Foundation, PO Box 806393, Chicago, IL 60680.