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My devastating experience of mesothelioma

Chris lost her husband in just months to a cruel disease which currently has no cure.

Fourteen years ago, my husband Mick and I had just enjoyed two weeks of sand, sea and sun in Corfu and didn’t have a care in the world except when we would next get back to Greece. Little did we know that just a few weeks later, our world would collapse.

On return from holiday Mick had been feeling unwell with a chest infection. When it didn’t go away and he was finding it hard to breathe, we went to A&E. A sympathetic doctor suggested he had an X-ray “just to make sure”.

The x-ray showed Mick’s lung was totally obliterated.

We didn’t have time to think about what it was as Mick was immediately taken to have two and a half litres of fluid drained from his lung. This gruelling process was repeated several times over the next few weeks. We never really discussed what was happening and were confident the doctors would get to the root of the problem.

On Wednesday, 26 July 2000, we arrived at North Tyneside Hospital for test results. It is a date I will never forget. We knew immediately that the news was bad, but when the doctor said Mick had the asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma we just looked at each other.

Mesothelioma? We’d never heard of it. Asbestos-related? Mick had never worked in heavy industry. We thought that there must be a mistake. The doctor confirmed the diagnosis, and the news got worse.

For mesothelioma, there was no treatment, no cure and no hope. Mick had just six months to live. Stunned we walked out of the hospital with our arms around each other. It was a beautiful July day, the sun was shining and we found ourselves at the coast. We sat holding hands looking out to sea in total shock. We were soul mates, and always had been since we first got together - how could we possibly cope with life without each other? My heart was broken.

I’ve since found out that, like many people, Mick developed mesothelioma after being innocently exposed to asbestos whilst serving his country in the Navy. Many more still have developed the devastating cancer after coming across asbestos working as builders, as plumbers, in factories, in shipyards, or even just by washing the clothes of someone who worked in those trades.

It is a cruel disease that takes innocent individuals, often with devastating speed. On 19 March 2001, my beloved Mick died, in my arms, just 7 months after his diagnosis.

Few people with mesothelioma survive much longer. In the 13 years since his death, I’ve worked tirelessly to honour Mick, and with the help of many wonderful people, we have raised more than a million pounds for mesothelioma research.

We’ve helped set up the UK’s first ever mesothelioma research tissue bank, and helped fund many important research projects that are gradually working towards finding new treatments for this dreadful disease. But sadly, it’s not enough.

Although I, and organisations like the British Lung Foundation, are working so hard to improve the outlook for future mesothelioma patients, not enough is coming in from other sources, such as the government and private sector. As a result, total mesothelioma research funding lags shamefully behind the amount invested in diseases that kill similar numbers of people, such as skin cancer.

But there is now a real chance to change this and generate the money needed to fund life-changing research. Just recently an idea by floated by medical professionals and the British Lung Foundation suggested the possibility of securing additional funding for research by asking the insurance industry for a tiny percentage of mesothelioma compensation premiums.

This could potentially generate millions for more research to be done – money that could really give families like mine hope. And the insurance companies wouldn’t even lose out; with more research into treatments and cures, fewer people would need to receive compensation.

It seems a simple solution to a difficult problem. A win, win.

So what are we waiting for?

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14 April 2014