Avril Grant

Avril Grant has a unique and emotive story to tell. At just 50 years old she has coped with the death of two partners, both to the same disease – asbestos related cancer.

Her husband Chris died of mesothelioma, a cancer caused by exposure to asbestos, in November 2001. Avril and Chris had married in 1997 in Las Vegas. After suffering violence in her first marriage, it was a second chance at happiness for Avril.

Chris had worked as an electrician where he was exposed to asbestos in many ways. He fitted cookers which had asbestos fireguards; he worked in industrial and domestic premises from cellars to roof spaces  and once even  alongside people who were spraying asbestos on to gas pipes to lag them. He, like many people in those days, had no idea of the dangers of working with this substance. He had no protective masks, or training on the risks.

Avril said: "He wouldn't have had any training on asbestos, nobody thought it was a danger at the time. He just did his job, came home, and that was it."

In 1999, Chris developed a nasty chest infection. He was treated with antibiotics but the following winter the symptoms returned. This time his symptoms were worse and he was coughing up blood. Avril insisted he visited the doctor. When the doctor delivered the x-ray results, Chris was diagnosed with mesothelioma. Six weeks after being diagnosed, Chris had to give up work and sell his business.

Up to that point, Chris and Avril had lived a very active life together, working on and sailing the boats they owned. This was a hobby they shared and relished.

Following the diagnosis, Chris's health deteriorated quickly and he began treatment for the disease. He underwent surgery to drain the fluid from his lungs and started a course of radiotherapy.

The disease took hold rapidly. Six months later, Chris was unable to even get up out of his chair. Over the months he lost half his body weight and by autumn, his condition deteriorated further.

In November he needed an oxygen mask to breathe properly and was on morphine to deal with the pain. Chris requested to go into a hospice. He was surrounded by Avril and other family members in his final days. Avril was at his side when he passed away.

She described her feelings when Chris died: "When you have loved a person, you have done everything for him. You have made sure his family is all right. You have made sure you are all right. I made sure that everybody that was personal to me knew what was going on."

"I said that Chris had passed away and I just collapsed on the floor. I couldn't cope, that it was bang - gone."

After dealing with the grief of losing her husband, Avril became close to Les, an old friend of Chris's.

"Les was a funny character. I met Les the year after Chris died. Chris and Les had known each other, which made it easier."

Les also shared Avril's passion for boats. He also had a love for motorbikes and tanks, and had previously worked as a mechanic. This is where he was exposed to asbestos.

Today, brakes are not coated with asbestos, but they were when Les was working in the mechanics trade. He maintained lorry brake systems, drilling and fitting asbestos-coated brakes.

In the summer of 2005, three years after they had got together, Les developed a niggly cough. Warning bells rang for Avril, she had heard those symptoms before.

Les went to the doctor, had an x-ray, and was diagnosed with the same diseased Chris had died from – mesothelioma.

"From when they said he had mesothelioma, we didn't talk for a day. When we did speak Les said, 'right, well you are not looking after me, I can look after myself.' I said 'don't be so stupid, I will look after you in exactly the same way I looked after Chris and don't say anything like that again'. He knew that I meant it."

He had an operation to remove the fluid from his lung but it didn't work. He lost his teeth and the cancer attacked his liver, kidneys, bladder and right arm. He went downhill quickly in January and February 2006 so Avril had Les admitted into hospital.

She said: "I was up there at the hospital for eight to ten hours a day. When I came home I got myself something to eat, went to sleep, then got up and did it all over again. Day after day."

On 22 March Avril was exhausted and needed sleep. Les was comfortable so she left him, promising to see him in the morning.

"I thought 'right, I am absolutely shattered, I'm going home'. I left Les nice and comfortable. He was listening to his favourite radio station and was laying in bed, snoring. I thought he is restful, he is peaceful. He looked absolutely lovely with his white beard and glasses."

When she was driving home Avril received a call from the hospital telling her that Les had died.

She turned around and headed straight back. She and Les had become engaged at Christmas 2005 but they never had the chance to marry.

The effect of losing Chris and Les has been enormous for Avril. She suffers many health problems and has been diagnosed with depression.

This is a subject Avril feels passionately about. She wants the dangers of asbestos to be well known so that people are aware of the risks. She wants lives of people like Chris and Les to be saved.

Avril has a message for those who may come into contact with asbestos: "Be careful. Just be careful. If there's any point when you feel there is an inkling there is asbestos, get an expert to check it to make sure there is no asbestos and it is safe for you to work, or get it removed properly before you work there."

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Updated 2023-05-16