Fife widow's plea for lung cancer patients to talk about their work histories

Colin, who died in February 2017 on his 62nd birthday, is pictured with wife Joan.Colin, who died in February 2017 on his 62nd birthday, is pictured with wife Joan.
Colin, who died in February 2017 on his 62nd birthday, is pictured with wife Joan.
The Kirkcaldy woman has spoken out ahead of Action Mesothelioma Day 2020.

A Fife widow is urging lung cancer patients to talk about their work histories with doctors after her husband died from the disease.

Joan Wilson is sharing her story ahead of Action Mesothelioma Day, which takes place on Friday, July 3.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The UK-wide initiative raises awareness of Mesothelioma, a terminal condition caused by exposure to asbestos, which is similar to that which killed her husband Colin.

Colin (62), was exposed to asbestos 40 years ago while working as a labourer.

He felt healthy for decades until 2015 when shortness of breath forced him to the doctors.

It was originally thought the symptoms were caused by Colin’s smoking habit but scans later confirmed the primary cause was actually asbestos.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Now after winning a legal action, wife Joan (63), has called on sufferers, their families and medics to have deeper discussions about work histories in the hope it will highlight the asbestos risk sooner.

She said: “How hard is it to ask ‘have you or a loved one ever come into contact with asbestos?’.

“If GPs don’t ask then people should flag it up because not pinning down the primary cause affects surviving families, not just patients.”

Colin worked at the renovation of a linoleum factory in Kirkcaldy’s Victoria Road in the 1970s.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

He had to break up asbestos insulation in old boiler rooms and sweep up the debris – he also had to break up floors or ceilings that contained asbestos.

Despite knowing the risk, bosses at Alex Fraser Ltd didn’t give the labourer a breathing mask, safety gear or a source of ventilation so he inhaled deadly asbestos fibres.

The silent damage done to Colin was only confirmed in November 2015 when he was diagnosed with pleural plaques and lung cancer.

The pleural plaques showed on a CT scan while the cancer - a 27mm growth in his right lung - was discovered two weeks later after a biopsy.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

In January 2016 surgeons removed Colin’s right lung in the hope of curing the disease, but sadly his symptoms persisted and it was confirmed that April the cancer had returned.

During this time Colin underwent radiotherapy but he was no longer able to work.

His physical condition worsened so much Joan effectively became his carer.

Colin passed away at home on February 28, 2017 – the day of his 62nd birthday.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Joan, a shop assistant, added: “Colin didn’t deserve to die – especially as early as he did.

“His employers knew asbestos was a risk yet did nothing to keep him out of harm’s way.

“He deserved a full life a life that we could share together.

“We were life’s soulmates and he is missed every day.

“But I will never let go of the memories - they are constant reminders of a great story that ended too soon.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Colin and Joan got support from Dundee group Asbestos Action after they were referred by the lung specialist at Victoria Hospital.

The not-for-profit charity was able to put the couple in touch with additional medical and specialist legal support.

And when the DWP refused to pay Colin industrial injuries disablement benefits the charity battled the government at a special tribunal and overturned this decision.

Among the methods to prove if a person’s lung cancer was caused by asbestos are a review of someone’s work history by an occupational hygienist, looking for asbestos fibres in a lung tissue sample and a radiological review.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

However these tests are often only carried out if asbestos is discussed with a doctor.

The danger of not having asbestos established as a primary cause of lung cancer means a surviving family can be denied the ability to secure justice.

Current HSE data suggests there should be as many asbestos-related lung cancer cases as mesothelioma cases but there are far fewer.

Fraser Simpson, partner and head of industrial disease at Digby Brown, led the legal action that secured a six-figure sum of compensation for the Wilson family.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

He said: “Discussions around previous employment and historic exposure risks are simply vital because confirming asbestos as the primary cause for lung cancer can often be the key

to holding past employers accountable.

Smoking and asbestos exposure carry risk of lung cancer their own right, but where a patient has a history of both, that risk is greatly multiplied.

“However the responsibility does not rest with GPs alone – any specialist within the treatment of asbestos can make a difference with a few simple questions - to be safe,

individuals may also want to raise their own concerns even if the GP has not asked.”

Related topics: