Donna Tracey is native of the West Midlands area of England, where she lives and grew up on the border of South Staffordshire and Wolverhampton. However, until this past winter, she had never heard of mesothelioma, a rare and deadly form of cancer.
“I have never heard of mesothelioma until my father became ill earlier this year,” Donna recently told the Mesothelioma + Asbestos Awareness Center. “I knew that being exposed to asbestos was dangerous, that it can cause lung cancer – but I didn’t know about cancer of the pleura” (i.e., the thin membrane linings that help the lungs expand and contract in the chest).
“Dad started feeling ill just after his older brother, who died just before Christmas 2015 of a cancerous brain tumor,” Donna recalled of her father’s experience with mesothelioma. “We thought that it was just a chest infection. Our doctor gave him some antibiotics and sent him to our local hospital for a chest x-ray as a precaution.”
However, as it turned out, Donna’s father – Anthony Tracey – had more than simple infection. The x-ray revealed fluid in his left lung. That discovery prompted more testing.
“He then had to have a CT scan and some fluid removed from his lung in order to help him breath better,” Donna explained. “Some of the fluid was used for testing. My dad then saw a surgeon who told him that a operation was needed and asked him if he had ever been in contact with asbestos. This was when we began to get worried.”
Researching a Deadly Disease
Not knowing anything about mesothelioma or how it could affect her father, Donna took it upon herself to learn more about the disease.
“I did some research on the internet and came across mesothelioma. I found that the prognosis isn’t good, so I hoped with all my heart that my dad wouldn’t have this disease.”
Anthony’s surgery was scheduled to determine the extent of the problems and make a definitive diagnosis.
“He had the operation two weeks later,” Donna told MAA Center. “The pleura had cancer all over it, so the surgeon removed as much as he could. The lung was then glued to the ribs and some sort of talc was also used. A camera was put inside his lungs for further investigation.”
When the biopsy came back, the word was definitive. “Mesothelioma was diagnosed, our worst nightmare,” Donna said. “The oncologist explained that there is no cure, and in the worst case scenario, he could only have 12 months left of his life.” However, even with this poor outlook, there was some hope, Donna said, as some patients can live as long as five years after diagnosis.
The Aftermath of Asbestos-Related Cancer
With a diagnosis of mesothelioma and the expectation that treatments would be extensive, Donna’s father prepared for what was to come.
“My dad had to close his business,” she said. “Sell his van and tools. He hated doing this as he loved his work. He enjoyed the interaction with his customers and the job satisfaction.”
In addition to the debulking surgery Anthony underwent to remove as much of the cancerous tissue as possible, he was scheduled for a series of chemotherapy treatments to kill any remaining cancer cells left in the body.
“To date my father has one chemotherapy treatment left,” Donna reported. “He has done extremely well so far. Not too many side effects.” As of the time of writing, the cancer has not spread; however, it has not gone away either, according to a recent CT scan.
As for how Donna’s father was exposed to asbestos in the first place, Donna says the story goes back to when he was just a teenager.
“It was in the late 1960s, when my dad got his first job on leaving school at the age of 15, when he was exposed to asbestos. He was working as a plumber’s mate.”
The job put Anthony into close contact with asbestos, which is often used as insulation around piping and water appliances. “It was his job to cut asbestos sheets and asbestos tape to be used in the installation of central heating boilers into fireplaces,” Donna explained.
When describing how her father was exposed and the resulting mesothelioma diagnosis, Donna expressed her frustration at the situation overall. “It is not fair that this has happened,” she said. “He has worked hard all his life. He is loyal, has a good sense of humor, young at heart, and was loved by all his customers – especially the elderly ones!”
The symptoms of mesothelioma can take years to develop, and often when they do appear, they may look like the symptoms of other diseases. For Donna, it was difficult to get her father to get symptoms checked out in when they first began to appear.
“He can also be a little stubborn,” Donna continued her description. “We had to demand that he went to the doctor when he started showing signs of his illness.”
Finding Strength in Adversity
Despite her father’s mesothelioma diagnosis, Donna said that she learned something about herself in the process.
“When you go through something like this, you discover an inner strength,” she told MAA Center. “To begin with, it is such a huge shock, but in a way you gradually come to terms with it. You find that you have the ability to carry one when times are bad. But when it comes down to it you have no choice, you just have to get on with it.”
Another important thing she discovered was that it takes effort to make sure people understand the problems of asbestos, and how much of it still exists.
“I believe that the only way that people can protect themselves from being exposed to asbestos is to educate them. If you don’t know how to recognize it, where it is used, and what for then you can’t avoid it. You then have no protection. The only other way is for a complete worldwide ban and for every piece to be removed.”