For over 45 years, Neil worked as a plumber. Then one day when Neil went in for an X-ray for a sore shoulder, he unexpectedly found out he had one of the most aggressive incurable lung cancers: mesothelioma.
Caused by exposure to asbestos, mesothelioma comes on fast. Inhaled fibres in the lungs cause tumours that make breathing difficult. Unfortunately, people who are diagnosed with mesothelioma may have a severely shortened life span post-diagnosis.
For Mesothelioma Awareness Day, Neil shares with us his story.
“As an apprentice, you knew nothing about the dangers of asbestos”
Neil started working as a plumber when he was just 16 years old. At that time, he says that asbestos was an amazing product, and no one really knew the dangers.
“You used to get on a ladder and drill a series of holes into a sheet of asbestos, and then you’d file it down,” says Neil. “The dust was falling on top of you. I would have done hundreds of those holes in my time.”
Neil recalls the changes coming in, and people becoming more aware of the risks – but by that point, it was too late.
“You can have 1 million fibres on an area the size of your fingernail, and all it takes is one fibre to cause mesothelioma.”
Unlike most people diagnosed with mesothelioma (or any asbestos-related disease), Neil didn’t seek treatment for his shortness of breath. He’d noticed he was a little bit out of breath but had put it down to the flu.
In fact, it was a shoulder injury that caused him to speak to a doctor. The doctor suggested cortisone injections, but to do so, he needed to take a scan of Neil’s lungs. This was on the Friday.
Straightaway, Neil’s doctors could tell something was wrong.
“On the scans, all they found was black. It was all fluid. They told me there was something there, and it could either be a cyst, an infection or cancer.”
By Monday, Neil’s doctors confirmed the worst: cancer, and most likely mesothelioma.
By Wednesday, Neil had over 3L of fluid drained from his lungs in one sitting, and another 2.5L a few days after that.
When asked what his biggest hurdle is, Neil doesn’t hesitate.
“It’s getting over the treatment. I’ve had chemotherapy, drugs, and now I’m onto immunotherapy.”
Treatment also isn’t cheap; if you’re not on a clinical trial, immunotherapy can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Neil has been having between four and eight sessions per month.
“Immunotherapy treatment can be very expensive and depending on how many treatments received, the costs can really add up. Fortunately, through the compensation process, we have been able to get Neil’s immunotherapy treatment covered which is a huge financial relief for him. This was a real win for us and Neil as the defendant/insurer may resist paying for this type of treatment,” says Colleen Bolger, the leader of the Victorian Dust Diseases team.
Neil agrees that the claims process has been tough, but reckons he’s been fairly lucky.
“The process is not easy, but if I had to do it myself it’d be a nightmare. No one wants to take responsibility for asbestos exposure. Don’t give up though – you never know what your costs will be,” he says.
Neil believes that getting X-rayed can be the key to minimising the effects of a diagnosis like his. “If you’re a plumber, carpenter or electrician, it takes nothing to get an X-ray,” he says.
If you’re concerned about any asbestos exposure, you should see your GP for a lung scan as soon as possible. You can also register your exposure for free on our Dust Registry.
An employer owes their employees a duty of care to protect them from being exposed to an unreasonable risk of injury, this includes protecting their employees from being exposed to any asbestos. There is no safe level of exposure to asbestos, therefore precautions must always be taken when dealing with it.
This Mesothelioma Awareness Day, we encourage anyone with even slight symptoms to have a scan.
We also encourage anyone working with asbestos products or in an environment with asbestos to take every safety precaution possible. Your health is too important to take risks with.
As for Neil, he says that he plans on sticking around for as long as he can with his wife, four daughters and nine grandchildren.
“I’d be in Malta right now if it wasn’t for the lockdown. But whatever happens, happens – and I’m just going to fight it as much as I can.”
Our experienced lawyers have a long history of fighting for the rights of people suffering from asbestos, silica and mine dust related illnesses. If you've been diagnosed with a dust disease, you may have a claim for compensation.
Our Canberra office is now closed, but our team continues to serve ACT clients and are available for phone and video appointments. If you need legal advice, please call us on 1800 675 346.
We have lawyers who specialise in a range of legal claims who travel to Tasmania. If you need a lawyer in Hobart, Launceston or elsewhere in Tasmania, please call us on 1800 675 346.