I first noticed something wasn’t quite right in January 2009, when I suddenly lost all feeling in one arm. I went straight to my GP to find out what was wrong and was told it was probably just a problem with a nerve.
2. Medical examination
An X-ray was scheduled, but with a two and a half month holiday in Spain already planned and nothing too serious suspected, I decided to wait until after my break to investigate further. Not long after returning to the UK, I was walking to a polling station when I found myself getting really breathless.
I knew something definitely wasn’t right this time, and finally I got the X-ray I needed. It showed lots of fluid on my left lung that needed to be drained – 5 litres of it! Sadly, further tests revealed cancer cells in the fluid, and a biopsy confirmed my diagnosis: mesothelioma, a cancer caused by contact with asbestos that affects the lining of the lungs and currently has no cure.
3. Discovering the source.
I never worked with asbestos myself, but my husband did – in a shipyard, just like thousands of others in his generation. No one knew the dangers at the time, and I realised I must have been exposed by breathing in the asbestos fibres from his work clothes, which I used to shake and wash for him.
4. Coping with the condition.
The next steps for me were chemotherapy and radiotherapy. At that time, I was given just three months to live. But I’ve been determined not to let this condition beat me. It’s now been four years and I’m still fighting. I can’t do quite as much as I used to. I enjoyed swimming and walking, but the water is too cold for me now and I can’t breathe too well if it’s windy outside – but I still get out into the garden and go camping with my husband in our motorhome. Although most days I get tired quickly and have to have a sleep in the afternoon, I still manage to have an active social life.
5. Keeping positive.
I’m going to continue taking this new drug to see where it takes me; I hope it all shrinks away now. I’m the only one left of three who began this trial, so the researchers are looking at my DNA to find out what gene is working to give me such encouraging results. Despite living with constant physical pain, I’ve been busy campaigning to make sure no one has to go through the same experience in the future.
There is five days left to vote for me as Plumber of the Year 2016 – remember I’m donating all my winning of £10,000 to Mesothelioma UK. http://bit.ly/EMPOTY