A Sydney man has been given only months to live after unintentionally being exposed to high levels of asbestos in the 1970s.
“At the end of the day you were just absolutely white; covered in the dust,” Douglas Noble told nine.com.au.
When Mr Noble and his friends started working in construction in 1971, they had never heard about the dangers of asbestos, let alone the deadly fibres that can scar the lungs if inhaled.
So like many Australian's during that period he worked without safety equipment, often using just his handkerchief to try and stop some of the “white powder” from spewing into his mouth as he sawed through Hardieflex panels supplied by James Hardie's building company.
“The fibro roof sheets … were corrugated. We had to cut those and I just used an electric saw. Of course the dust just went everywhere. Sometimes I'd just place a hanky over my face and nose to try and stop the dust,” he said.
Following a decade building garages, Mr Noble went on to other areas of construction, completely unaware of the hurt his years of exposure to asbestos fibres would one day have on his body.
“Over the years in the building trade we did demolition and everything was done right, full face masks with breathing apparatus. I said to my wife, 'Geez I hope (that dust) didn't affect me back in the 70s’. Well, bingo there it is now, 71 years of age and it's caught up to me.”
A father of three sons and now a grandfather of four, Mr Noble retired with his wife to Milperra in south-west Sydney.
His former-life cutting fibro boards for garages seemed like a distant memory until one August afternoon last year when he was mowing the lawn.
” I just felt a small bit small breathed and didn't reckon much about it. Then my wife and I went … to stay with some friends and (they) had two houses on the property. By the time I walked (between the houses) I was absolutely breathless,” he said.
“I came home and went straight to my GP. That’s when it all started.”
Over the next three months, Mr Noble was ushered between doctors, specialists and hospitals where he underwent X-Rays, CT scans and biopsies. The 71-year-ancient said the term “mesothelioma” had been brought up on several occasions, but no one told him what it was.
At 6am on Thursday, May 5, 2017, a doctor woke Mr Noble up during one of his hospital visits and broke the news.
“He said, 'I've got all the results here, and they're not excellent, you have mesothelioma’. I questioned him what was the bottom line and he told me … I probably had between 12-18 months and that will be about it,” he said.
“I questioned him, ‘What can I do now?’. He said there was really nothing, there was no treatment.
Pleural mesothelioma is the result of asbestosis and is a type of cancer that forms in the outer layer of the lungs. In most cases, it is fatal and can't be remedied by conventional cancer treatments.
But the insidiousness of the disease rests with its gestation period, often taking decades before symptoms arise.
Asbestosis and mesothelioma have become a major health concern in places like New York, which was covered in 400,000kg of asbestos when the World Trade Centre collapsed in 2001.
As a result, more than a thousand people in the city have been diagnosed with asbestos related cancers and diseases.
Mr Noble said he struggled to comprehend his terminal condition after his doctor told him there was nothing more the hospital could do.
“The last thing he said to me when he left the room was, ‘Under no circumstances allow anyone to talk you into having chemotherapy. It won't work, it won’t change a thing and it's going to make four and half months of your life miserable’,” he said.
Since his prognosis, the Milperra grandfather – who is currently seeking hurts from James Hardie through Slater & Gordon lawyers – has felt his condition worsen and finds it more hard to breathe each day.
He said aside from a cough he isn't in pain, but, he has lost the ability to do simple household chores or even tying his shoelaces.
“There are things I can't do anymore. I can't work on the car, I can't do any work on the house really. Mowing the lawns is out of the question. Things you take for granted I can't do anymore,” he said.
While leaving behind children and grandchildren will be devastating, Mr Noble said his greatest dread was knowing his wife will be alone when he is gone.
“She sticks … to herself, she knows what the end result is going to be and she is obviously not very pleased about it,” he said.
© Nine Digital Pty Ltd 2017
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