Another mountain to climb. Oxygen deprivation in the Himalayas had awakened a sleeping tiger.
The diagnosis finally arrived. “You have mesothelioma”. Prognosis? “12-18 months”.
The previous year, I was travelling the Himalayas on a 150cc motorbike with my son Adam. At 60 years of age and completely inexperienced on trail bikes, we maneuvered through goat tracks with massive drop-offs to one side and regular rockslides on the other. We had travelled 5500m far too quickly and both suffered altitude sickness. From this, I developed a chest infection. So weak, I often fell from my bike. Little did I know, my condition proved to be the catalyst for something far more threatening to my survival.
A few weeks after returning to Perth, I noticed a pain in my right side when I coughed or sneezed but disregarded this as a legacy of the many motorbike falls. After six months of the same, an ultrasound showed nothing. Three months later the pain persisted full-time requiring a further visit to the doctor. An x-ray showed I had four litres of fluid in the right plural cavity.
Forty years ago, I had helped a friend erect an asbestos fence with me doing the power-saw cutting. Unaware of this, the specialist advised that I had most likely ingested a microscopic piece of asbestos some forty years ago. My oxygen deprivation in the Himalayas had awakened a sleeping tiger.
So began a litany of treatment failures and disappointments which have dogged my existence for the past three years. Firstly, a failed pleurodesis (to stop the fluid building up) led to a drainage tube which attracted a staph infection at the site. Three different chemotherapy drugs and radiation all took their toll but failed to halt the monster which travelled north to my neck (causing swallowing complications) and south to completely engulf my abdomen. This is now causing the majority of my discomfort.
Much to the surprise of my oncologist, I am still vertical and active and continue to share my love and life with my wonderful wife Sally, four sons and a new batch of grandchildren.
Bernie (June 2016)
Bernie fought a good fight, surviving over three years and living life to the fullest in that time. He passed peacefully in October 2016 surrounded by his loving wife and sons.
If you, or someone you know, is affected by mesothelioma, do not hesitate to reach out to the Reflections team who provide care and support based on lived experience.BACK TO NEWS