Mavis Nye of Whitstable was diagnosed in 2009 with mesothelioma, which is caused by the harmful building material and affects the linings of the lungs.
There are very few cases worldwide of people recovering from the deadly cancer, but 76-year-old Mavis is one of the fortunate few. She said;
“I have been unlucky and lucky at the same time.
I’ve never worked in the construction industry or on a building site, but my husband Ray did. He used to come home with his clothes covered in dust, which I used to shake clean and wash for him.
At the time there was very little knowledge about dangers of coming into contact with asbestos and it never crossed my mind that I would be in danger from inhaling fibres from his clothes.
It is very important for tradespeople to realise that it’s not just their lung health that may be at risk, but also loved ones – their partners and their children.
Thankfully, I am still here to talk about my condition, but I know I’m one of the lucky ones. I want to make sure no one has to go through this experience in the future.”
Occupational lung diseases are increasing. Since 1992, mesothelioma deaths have increased by 70% to 1,862 and the disease receives far less money for research than other cancers that kill the same number of people.
Mrs Nye says her husband was devastated to learn her cancer was caused by the asbestos on his clothes. She said;
“He felt incredibly guilty. I met him in the 1950s and he came into contact with the asbestos while working at Chatham Dockyard.”
Ray did not contract the disease, while Mavis says she was at a greater risk of developing mesothelioma because of a cancer gene.
After gruelling chemotherapy she was put forward for a new trial with the Royal Marsden Hospital. She said:
“I was the last person to be put onto it and am the only one surviving. The treatment works in the opposite way to chemotherapy as it boosts your immune system so it fights the cancer more effectively – you feel far stronger.
The doctors do not know why it worked for me and not others. I want to raise money for research and have set up a foundation to help sufferers. I know one young sufferer who did not have the money to go to London for treatment.
The foundation would offer a hardship grant. Normally these are set up after you have died – I am glad to be alive and doing this.”
Dr Penny Woods, chief executive of the British Lung Foundation, said:
“Mavis’s story is truly inspiring. She is understood to be one of the few people in the world to be in recovery from mesothelioma, which can be a result of breathing in asbestos dust.
It takes a long time to develop from the time of original exposure, so people might not experience symptoms for many years.
It’s important that everyone working within the construction trade is aware of the risks not only to their own health but also to their friends and family.”