Beating the odds that asbestos victims face

A RETIRED Darwin carpenter carrying a death sentence from asbestos-related cancer has defied the odds and survived one of medicine’s most invasive cancer surgeries.

When he was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2016, Ken Selwood and his wife Di did not think he would get to see his 70th birthday together last September.

Mr Selwood said his cancer manifested after working with asbestos containing materials as a carpenter for 35 years.

“I was working with asbestos from the time I was a 16-year-old apprentice until my fifties,” he said. “No one ever told us to wear a mask. All I ever did was go to work and to find out all these years later that I have a cluster of tumours, sitting there like a bunch of grapes on my left lung, was a shock.”

Five rounds of chemotherapy at the Alan Walker Cancer Care Centre at RDH across four months shrunk the cancer by 30 per cent. “Then we were given the option to continue chemo and drugs or a controversial surgery and I opted for the latter,” Mr Selwood said.

“What happens is they open up your back, ribs and take out the lung, the tumour, the lining of the heart, the lining between the chest wall and the chest and part of the diaphragm and then put a piece of Gore-tex in there to seal it.”

He said they went to Sydney in May 2017 to do the surgery with Professor Brian McCaughan at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. “He’s one of only two doctors in Australia who will do this operation because 90 per cent of people die from it. It’s one of the most invasive procedures you can have.

“Out of the 120 people Prof McCaughan’s operated on over the years, there’s only 20 alive and I’m one of them. It’s not great odds but it was my choice and I’m alive. I probably wouldn’t be here
anyway if I didn’t do it.”

After surgery he underwent radiotherapy for six weeks in Sydney. “It was brutal, like spending 20 minutes in a jumbo microwave that cooks your insides every day,” he said.

After recently finding out about Mr Selwood’s story, the Asbestos Disease Support Society have reached out to offer their support and services.

Article originally appeared in NT News on 15 August, 2018.

Posted in News

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