George Hutchinson shouldn't be alive today. Doctors gave the Norwell man six months to live in July 2005 when he was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a rare cancer that the former plumber contracted after a lifetime working around asbestos.
Mesothelioma can take decades before symptoms like shortness of breath and chest pain are present. By then it's usually too late.
Most patients die within a year. Hutchinson is thankful he's still alive, but his life is no longer his.It belongs to the cancer.
"Every day, I have to have a nap. That's the hardest part about it is the weakness. I was always puttering around the house, the garden and doing odd jobs. I just can't do it anymore," said Hutchinson, 71. "I'm too weak and tired."
Hutchinson, a gentle grandfather of two, is finishing a month-long radiation treatment. He takes more than a dozen medications for his diabetes, the tumor and to keep his weight up, he said during an interview at his mobile home.
The former soccer referee's hands shake so much – a side effect of a steroid medication – that Hutchinson, a native Englishman, has trouble holding a cup of tea.
The disease is merciless, said Hutchinson's Boston attorney, Mike Shepard, who settled an asbestos exposure case last year on Hutchinson's behalf. "It's a horrible way to die," Shepard said. "Basically, this tumor surrounds your lung and strangles you to death."
Hutchinson's settlement is confidential. He had alleged that manufacturers of asbestos-linked products – boilers, gaskets and pipes that he used for decades – knew the mineral was dangerous but failed to warn workers.
"We didn't realize how bad it was," Hutchinson said. "No one ever said anything." Hutchinson said the settlement might enable he and Norma, his wife of 25 years, to move into a retirement community and will provide for her once he's gone.
"It gives you peace of mind for the future," he said. Norma Hutchinson said the toll can't be measured in dollars.
"Unfortunately, it's a disease that can't be cured," she said, "and eventually I'm going to lose my husband because of it."