Today’s blog is slightly different from normal. Having M.E. has made me more empathetic and understanding of the suffering of others with debilitating illnesses. This blog is aimed at raising awareness of just one of these.
A very close friend of mine works in a university in London. Part of her job is to project manage the upward extension of the Physics Department. By that I mean they are taking off the roof of the building and adding more floors. After removing some wall panels on the top floor, the builders discovered a man shaped print on the insulation. It was clear that a builder, probably back in the 1960s when the building was built, took a running leap against the wall. We can only assume it was something fun to do after a long day of work.
Initially, the idea of a man leaving such a print was really quite funny. When she told me I could just imagine the scenario – the man throwing aside his hard hat with a yelp of, “Come on guys, watch this!” taking a running leap at the wall, splaying out his hands and legs as he makes contact. Afterwards all the guys laugh at the craziness of their colleague. If it had been in the days of mobile phones no doubt videos would have been taken and spread throughout the internet via Facebook or the like.
It was only when my friend followed up with the fact that the indent had actually been made into Asbestos that the laughing stopped and the horrifying truth of the situation dawned. We stopped and wondered whether this gung-ho builder is still alive today. How long did it take him to realise he was sick? How long did it take him to die? Did he die after his children grew up or did he leave small children behind wondering what had happened to daddy? Did he ever realise himself that it was that one foolish leap that had precipitated his death? Has he succumbed yet to the cancer that may well yet ravish his life should he still be living today? Questions clearly that must go unanswered. We can not say whether this man is living or dead.
Until recently I had only vaguely heard of the cancer – Mesothelioma. I knew that it was primarily caused by exposure to Asbestos but I didn’t really understand just how serious this illness is. I was contacted recently by the husband of a woman who was a one in a million survivor of Mesothelioma as a consequence of Asbestos exposure. Through him I have learnt about the true nature of this disease.
For most of us we only realise to just what extent we are surrounded by Asbestos when our place of work or education is being refurbished – the building area is sealed off by men in alien suits. A few days later building work continues as normal and you think no more of it. Asbestos however is to be found in most buildings dating from before the 1980s or so. It was only then the true reality about just how dangerous Asbestos is led to changes in building habits although not necessarily regulations.
While most forms of Asbestos are now banned in the European Union, it is still legal in the US. In both the UK and the US on average 3000 people a year have their lives torn apart by a diagnosis of Mesothelioma. Both countries see these numbers rise year on year.
For me I also didn’t realise that the most minute quantity of Asbestos can cause this disease, as indeed can secondary exposure when you touch material that has Asbestos fibres on them. Years, if not even decades can pass before you begin to show signs of this illness. On diagnosis most specialists will give you only about 10 months to live. 10 months to sort out all those things you had dreamed of for the future. 10 months to say your goodbyes. 10 months to make sure your children will be financially secure for their future.
Some do beat the diagnosis as the wife of the man I have been conversing with did. These people are rare, very rare, they are the extremely lucky ones. What gets me though given I have a disease that I could have done nothing to prevent getting, is that Mesothelioma is 100% preventable. I would have given anything to prevent myself from getting M.E. There is no part of me that wants to have my life on hold. There is no part of me that wants to not be able to dream of my future. There is not one part of me that likes feeling exhausted and in pain day after day.
When I was therefore contacted by The Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance and asked to write a blog aiming to increase awareness of this disease and how it is 100% avoidable, I felt that if just one person avoided contacted with Asbestos as a consequence then this would be an incredible achievement.
Previously I may have been a little blasé about the dangers of minute amounts of Asbestos, I was sure it would have had to have been large quantities. Today however I know that being blasé in the schools I work in, the council offices I visit or the hospitals I attend could ultimately cost me my life.
To learn more about this illness visit Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance
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