Mesothelioma is a cruel disease.
As I watched it slowly rob my fit and healthy 52-year-old husband, Brian, of everything he had loved about his life — including the simple pleasure of eating — I lost interest in my own existence.
I wanted nothing more than to care for Brian to the best of my ability until the end.
Words cannot describe the depth of my loss when Brian’s long battle ended. As he took his last breath, I was torn between feeling relief for the end of his suffering and a desperate desire to have him back with me — if only for a little while.
After spending 37 years by his side, I felt empty without him. My life became a jigsaw puzzle missing half of the pieces.
But that wasn’t the last time I would deal with cancer or mesothelioma.
Almost 16 years have passed since Brian’s death. Since then, I have discovered you don’t overcome grief, but rather, you learn to live with it.
Time lessened the intensity of my loss, but I still miss Brian and the lifestyle I knew and enjoyed for all of the years we were together.
Though this will never change, I feel blessed to have found love, hope and happiness again in my life thanks to my second husband, Uwe. He’s a wonderful man who also felt the heartache of losing his partner to cancer.
Although his previous wife, Cheryl, wasn’t diagnosed with an asbestos-related cancer, he supports my need to share my mesothelioma caregiving journey. He understands it will help those on the same path I traveled.
Mesothelioma recently also claimed Noel, who was Brian’s brother-in-law. It was a cruel twist of fate for Brian’s sister. She lost her husband, brother and her father, Vic, to this disease.
Unlike Vic and Brian, both of whom developed mesothelioma from the short time they spent in the Australian asbestos mining town of Wittenoom, Noel was exposed to asbestos while working in the building industry from the time of his apprenticeship to his retirement.
During his lifetime, Noel suffered more than his share of ill health.
After surviving prostate cancer for a number of years, he developed Parkinson’s disease, which gradually affected every aspect of his life. But when he began to experience symptoms uncommon to Parkinson’s, his doctors attempted to fix the problem rather than find the cause.
After a bad fall on his driveway, an X-ray revealed a large mass on his brain. It turned out to be mesothelioma.
Although Noel was not expecting this outcome, the mesothelioma diagnosis came as no surprise. The deaths of Vic and Brian from exposure to asbestos made him aware of the likelihood that he, too, might suffer the same fate.
Shortly before Noel's death, he told me he always thought he would end up with mesothelioma cancer sooner or later.
Noel's forewarning highlights the reason why no one should ever underestimate the killing nature of asbestos. That's why I feel angry every time I read about someone being ignorant of the danger of asbestos exposure or placing innocent people at risk.
Mesothelioma takes a toll on families as it cuts through generations.
While it's impossible to expect asbestos will be eradicated from our planet, we can still learn from the fallen fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, brothers and sisters left in its wake.