Bernie Banton, who fought for and won compensation for fellow asbestos victims against building materials giant James Hardie, is gravely ill in hospital.
At an emotional news conference today, Mr. Banton announced that he had been stricken by peritoneal mesothelioma, an aggressive asbestos-triggered cancer that attacks the lining of the abdomen.
Mr. Banton, 60, is being treated at Sydney’s Concord Hospital, which set up an asbestos research institute after he lobbied for one. Previously Mr. Banton had been struck down by asbestosis – another asbestos-related illness.
“How ironic is it that I am here at Concord – the center of excellence in Sydney. For the last seven years I have had a long hard battle to get the establishment of the Asbestos Research Institute Center here,” he said. “So I am in wonderful hands.”
Flanked by his wife, Karen, and teenage son, Dean, Mr. Banton looked back at his role as an activist for workers’ rights.
“Gee whiz, you know what a wonderful opportunity I have had to represent all those victims out there and to be able to fight for them who were not well enough to do it and for us to get that fabulous result,” he said.
“The fight has taken a whole lot out of our family and now unfortunately we are really going to have to focus and be quite selfish really to do the best I can for myself and my family.”
AAP reports: Mr. Banton plans to sue James Hardie for further compensation for the deterioration of his health from the fund for victims of asbestos-related diseases that he fought to establish.
“I have filed for further compensation from James Hardie as a result of this deterioration of my health,” Mr. Banton said today in a statement.
“I will fight them to my dying breath to ensure that my family is OK.
“I also intend to fight pretty hard to live.”
Mr. Banton’s cancer is one of the worst a person can get.
With a mortality rate of “virtually 100 per cent”, peritoneal mesothelioma is widely regarded by specialists as incredibly painful and essentially untreatable.
“If there is one cancer you particularly want to avoid, it has to be this one,” said Professor Douglas Henderson, a specialist in asbestos-related disease at Flinders Medical Center in Adelaide.
Mr. Banton has long suffered from asbestosis, severe lung scarring brought about by exposure to the deadly fibres.
Now he is suffering a new and considerably more vicious asbestos-related condition, a rare and fast-spreading cancer that attacks the lining of the abdomen.
Each year, about 500 Australians develop malignant mesothelioma, a cancerous tumour which grows in the thin layer of tissue that covers the internal organs.
In more than 90 per cent of cases, it develops next to the lung but, as with Mr Banton, the cancer targeted the abdomen or peritoneum, spreading across the cavity and invading tissue of all kinds.
In both cases the prognosis is poor, with most patients dead within a year of diagnosis.
Professor Henderson said there was “virtually zero” chance of beating the disease, and overall the treatment options were “disappointing”, doing little to prolong life.
A younger, relatively fit patient may opt for the most extreme option known as a peritonectomy, a 24-hour operation to strip all of the tumor away from the intestine.
“However, I suspect given Bernie’s age that he wouldn’t be suitable for radical surgery,” Professor Henderson said.
His mainstay now is cancer chemotherapy drugs, but these are designed primarily to ease the pain of fluid build-up and lung inflation problems caused by the disease.
“It’s an extremely unpleasant cancer,” Professor Henderson said, “and it is one of the few that’s incurable.”
He said much-needed research was under way to better understand it in the hope of developing better treatments to extend survival.
In the meantime, Mr. Banton has vowed to “fight pretty hard to survive”, and specialists say some have lived five to 10 years with the disease.
“But these people, I’m afraid, are not the rule,” Professor Henderson said.
“They’re very much the exception.”