After leaving school at 15 my husband Steve worked for about 10 years as a maintenance fitter for a large chemical company in Cheshire. Some of the work involved stripping asbestos from the pipes in a boiler room. The older fitters considered asbestos stripping to be a 'horrible job' so they usually got the younger lads to do it. Steve didn't mind the work and regularly volunteered to do overtime at the weekend. Steve told me that apart from overalls no protective equipment was provided. The maintenance workers had lockers to hang up their clothes. Each day after changing into his overalls Steve would hang his clothes back in the same asbestos filled space.
Steve and me did everything together, we were really sporty and Steve was really fit. Choosing not to have children we were financially secure and enjoyed regular holidays. Some of the countries we went to Steve had visited with work. He would come back from a trip abroad and say "Ang, I've found a great place". There are so many places we didn't get to go to.
Although we didn't have our own children we were close family. We were very close to my brothers boys. Steve taught them to ride their bikes at our holiday home in Rutland Water. It's beautiful there; Steve loved it for the windsurfing. We also regularly took the boys swimming. It was at the Copley Baths in Stalybridge, Cheshire that Steve first mentioned to me that he couldn't get his breath.
After the busy Christmas period Steve still couldn't get his breath, he visited his GP in January 2004. His doctor immediately sent him for an X-ray. The very next day the GP rang telling Steve "I think it's bad news, we need to make a follow-up appointment for you." At this next hospital appointment with the consultant Steve turned to me and said "Ang, I thinks it's really bad news".
It was at this point that we had our 'deja-vu moment' we were both thinking about asbestos and mesothelioma. In 1991 my mum laid dying in hospital, we had been told it was mesothelioma, possibly contracted from past work. None of us knew what the Doctor was talking about and Steve spent ages researching asbestos and the illnesses it causes. He said to me then, "I might get that you know", I remember hitting him and telling him not to be stupid!" After all what are the chances of the two people you are closest to in the world dying from the same disease?
In a subsequent visit to the hospital, Steve had to have a lung drained of 3 litres of fluid. Following that he had a biopsy which confirmed a diagnosis of mesothelioma, the consultant delivered the devastating news Steve had about 8-9 months to live.
We brought forward all the plans we could. Steve loved sailing, he had learnt to sail and got his skipper licence in 2003. We did manage to take a couple of cruises together; our last holiday was a fourteen day cruise around the Mediterranean.
My Steve had always been a Ford Escort man, after his diagnoses he really wanted to upgrade to a luxury car, he brought himself an automatic Lexus IS200 (he could no longer manage to change gears), knowing it would be his last.
We had been together 27 years when Steve found out he was terminally ill, we were happy as we were and had never seen the need to get married but his illness changed all that. We had a simple registry service in February 2004 not knowing how much longer Steve had to live.
Steve was in good shape prior to his diagnoses and I'm sure this is why he managed to survive for two and a half years. He looked really fit and healthy to lots of people until a couple of months before he died. But his suffering was horrendous; that last couple of months he was dependent on morphine.
When we talked about how he could have contracted mesothelioma he was adamant that he wanted his story to be told. He was 52 years old when he died, he wasn't old. He wanted young tradesmen to know that they needed to take the risks of working with asbestos seriously. He wanted tradesmen to see pictures of him on his boat; he wanted them to get the message that it's not just the old that die from mesothelioma!
I do wish somebody had told us their story. That someone had done what I'm doing; asbestos is still a very real danger. Steve told me that if he had known how dangerous asbestos was he wouldn't ever have agreed to work without any proper protection.
Steven John Buckley died on 7 October 2006, aged 52.
- Asbestos essentials
- Asbestos: The licensed contractors' guide
- Managing and working with asbestos: Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012