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Doves To Be Released As 'Symbol Of Hope' As Birmingham Remembers Asbestos Victims

National Action Mesothelioma Day


Wednesday 27th February will see events taking place across the country to mark the third national Action Mesothelioma Day. In Birmingham, white doves will be released in the grounds of the Cathedral Church of St Philips in Colmore Row, Birmingham, at 2.15pm, both as a memorial to local victims of the asbestos related cancer and as a symbol of hope for the future.

Among those taking part in the event will be 70-year-old Margaret Worthington, a retired West Midlands schoolteacher, who has been diagnosed with mesothelioma.

Margaret, from Darlaston in the Black Country, received the devastating news in December 2006, that she has incurable mesothelioma, a cancer almost always caused by inhaling asbestos fibres, that affects the lining of the chest (mesothelium). Asbestos, a heat resistant substance, was commonly used in the building trade and as a lagging for pipes during the 1950s through to the 1980s. Many victims were unaware at the time that they had been exposed to the lethal fibres.

It is believed that Margaret, who worked for many years as a primary school teacher, may have contracted the disease after pinning and stapling her pupils' work to pin boards on the classroom walls, which could have released asbestos fibres into the air.

Margaret, who has undergone chemotherapy treatment and has also been prescribed the latest mesothelioma drug, Alimta, says: "I try to stay positive and live each day to the full. I feel fortunate because I have a loving husband and family who are very supportive."

Alida Coates, an industrial diseases expert with Birmingham law firm, Irwin Mitchell, said: "Since Action Mesothelioma Day began three years ago, we have made some headway against this terrible disease. The 'June Hancock Mesothelioma Research Fund' has raised more than £500,000 and has recently funded a major ongoing research project at a Cardiff hospital, which we very much hope will take us one step closer to finding a cure for this terrible disease.

"We also had the excellent news last July that the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) has recommended Alimta for the treatment of mesothelioma on the NHS, which finally brings England into line with Scotland, other EC countries and the U.S.A where the drug is already widely available.

"Although there is hope for the future, we should not however lose sight of the fact that we have seen a year on year increase in the number of people developing mesothelioma. What is of great concern is the growing number of people like Margaret Worthington who worked in jobs, not usually associated with heavy exposure to asbestos and who have been diagnosed with Mesothelioma. These include teachers, hospital staff and family members exposed to asbestos dust on their loved ones' work clothes.

"There still exist myths and misconceptions about how dangerous asbestos is. Prevention must be the answer, given that there currently is no cure for mesothelioma. Asbestos legislation must be strictly enforced throughout industry to prevent further unnecessary deaths from this terrible illness.

"Even though asbestos has been a banned substance in the UK for more than 20 years, it still exists in some workplaces. Awareness of the ongoing dangers that this legacy poses must be raised to prevent further unnecessary deaths. Awareness of Mesothelioma, how it is contracted and how dangerous asbestos is, needs to be raised."

Steve Peacock, Regional Industrial Organiser for T&G Section Unite, said: "Asbestos killed my father and devastated my family. Many other people in the Midlands are similarly affected including those in the industries we cover in Unite the Union.

"We need to make sure that all those who now have mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases have all the support and are given all the rights that they need. I am pleased to say that there will be more services very soon for those affected in the West Midlands, for all, whether in unions or not. We have actively supported the setting up of a new asbestos support project, the details of which will be announced in the next few weeks."

Mrs Worthington adds: "I try to stay positive and I think that’s the key to living with a disease like mesothelioma. However, I am realistic about my long-term prognosis and I know it's hardest for my family. I have two young granddaughters aged five and two. I don't have the strength now to pick up the youngest. She’s too young to understand why her Grandma can't lift her up and carry her around. Its little things like this that I used to take for granted that are tough to cope with."