Understanding the impact of asbestos:

Paul Douglas’s story

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Boilermaker. Husband. Father. Brother. Fighter. Words used to describe Paul Douglas, initially given only three to six months to live when he was diagnosed with mesothelioma. Paul would go on to live and fight for more than a decade, serving as an inspiration to others and raising awareness about the impact of asbestos.

Exposure and diagnosis

As a construction boilermaker since 1978, Paul was working on industrial furnaces in oil refineries and pulp mills — all insulated with asbestos. "There was a lot of it flying around," said Paul, in an April 2005 interview for WorkSafe Magazine. "We all worked around the stuff wearing only those flimsy little dust masks for protection."

But it wasn't until 20 years later that Paul would be diagnosed, as he described in this excerpt from his personal blog about the experience:

In fall 1998, I was working on a project, building penstock and scroll casing. While I was there, I started to feel sluggish climbing stairs... it would take me up to five minutes to get my breath back. I was 5 feet, 9 inches tall, 210 pounds, and in fairly good shape as far as boilermakers go. So I went to my physician, who in turn sent me to get my lung x-rayed. The x-ray showed pleural infusion. The specialist taped my lung and removed 3.5 litres of fluid.

Something was definitely wrong... A bronchoscopy proved negative, which was good news. Next, on February 22, 1999, another specialist did a thoracoscopy, where they go between your ribs and into your pleura to take biopsies. Test results showed mesothelioma, a form of cancer related to asbestos exposure. What the oncologist said next really floored the family. He said, 'There's no known cure for malignant mesothelioma. Go home, do your paperwork. You've got three to six months to live.'

Paul had an immediate reaction to his diagnosis, recalled his wife Sharon Wilson. "I’ll always remember seeing him in the hospital bed, hooked up to numerous tubes, when the doctor came in and gave him the news. Paul almost leaped out of bed. You could see the determination in his eyes. Right then and there he decided, 'No. I’m not going to let this get me.'"

Only in his forties, Paul was not willing to let mesothelioma get the best of him. Instead, he tackled it head on — first setting important personal goals, such as attending his daughter Marina’s high-school graduation. When that happened, he committed to seeing her graduate from nursing school.

Paul also decided to do something bigger — to educate himself and others about asbestos and mesothelioma. He set up a blog, became an outspoken advocate for workplace safety and the dangers of asbestos in the workplace, was featured in two articles, even counselling others diagnosed with mesothelioma, and was receiving dozens of emails from people around the world, wanting to know what he was doing to stay alive.

Paul passed away on October 20, 2010, more than 11 years after his diagnosis and a few days' shy of his 56th birthday. In addition to everything people have said about him, there’s one more thing to add to the list: he is one of the longest-surviving mesothelioma sufferers in Canada, if not the world.

Paul Douglas