I’d like to take a moment to thank Rebecca Arnautovic, the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance’s Advocate of the Month for April. Rebecca has been incredibly active and visible in our Facebook community and continues to help spread the message of the MCA, while lending her support and knowledge to others affected by cancer. Beneath is an interview with Rebecca about her own experience with cancer and how that has shaped her way of life.
Has cancer affected you in some way? If so, in what way? Tell us about your experience.
I was always aware of different cancers and people being affected by them but I never once thought it could happen to someone I knew or loved. My dad was a very tall, strong and healthy man; he worked 12-hour shifts and always provided us with the very best of life. It wasn’t like my dad to take sick days or any days off really. He believed if you worked hard you can have whatever you want and enjoy life.
My dad was 59 years old and had begun planning his retirement with my mum. They discussed what they would do, where they would go and how they would spend the rest of their lives. Little did we know, my dad had a vicious disease growing inside him that would soon shorten his life.
Every year after Christmas, our family would take a long, deserved vacation to Lake Charm. We’d sit by the water, fish, go out on the boat and just enjoy the time we had together before we had to head back to reality. The few months leading to our holiday my dad became very ill. He was fatigued, had shortness of breath, chest pain and a nasty cough. When the doctor saw him several times, it was diagnosed as the flu or a chest infection. He was prescribed antibiotics and was dismissed as not having anything more serious than that. My dad started to call in sick to work regularly and decided to take his long service leave earlier then expected. He rested everyday and was doing well.
Two weeks before we left for Lake Charm, the symptoms returned. He was back at the doctors and had 1 litre of fluid drained from his right lung. He felt amazing afterwards; he described it as a weight being lifted from his chest and off we went on our holiday. I was concerned about the fluid and my dad told me “Don’t worry dushy, a litre of fluid never hurt anyone.” I believed this; I believed nothing would ever hurt my dad.
After we returned from our holiday, my dad’s results were in. The doctor asked if he’d ever been exposed to asbestos and that the pathology results had showed malignant pleural mesothelioma. So what did these 3 long words mean? Dad came home and we researched the diagnosis only to be shattered with the results– no cure, poor prognosis and limited treatment options.
I cried for days. I couldn’t picture life with my dad. He was my dad and my best friend; we shared so many things and I was daddy’s little girl. I told myself not to get to worked up about it until he saw the oncologist. The day arrived and the news didn’t get better; my beautiful dad was given 6 months to live. Our treatment options were limited but as a family we decided to take mesothelioma on and give it a good go. If anyone could beat it my dad could!
Our battle had begun by trying many different mesothelioma treatments— diet changes, chemotherapy, clinical trials– you name it we tried it! Dad started to show positive signs as the tumors began to shrink. We were stunned and so happy that he was beating it despite the prognosis. I knew my dad was fighter and believed he would beat the mesothelioma and follow through with his retirement dreams. The months that followed went against us; chemotherapy was making my dad ill, making him lose weight and developing pneumonia. He required oxygen 24 hours a day and his list of medication kept increasing. By this stage, being September 2011, the doctors had told us the mesothelioma had taken over and had spread into his other lung. He still requested chemo and wanted to fight it out. He ended up having one more chemo treatment, but his body was so tired. His mind was still ready for the fight but his body just couldn’t handle another chemo treatment. My dad’s wish was to pass away at home and we granted him this wish. We worked closely with palliative care and made my dad very comfortable.
On October the 5th, 2011, my daddy passed away. It’s now been 6 months and I feel like a piece of me is missing. I still expect him to walk through the door and hug me. I will never recover from seeing my dad suffer and pass away. It was a horrible experience and I’d give anything to have him back.
How has it shaped you as the person you are today?
This experience has made me realize how strong and determined I really am. Even though my experience was a negative one, I still love working with others going through cancer struggles and still hope for a cure for mesothelioma. I live everyday for my dad and know that he wouldn’t want me being upset and missing out on life. He would want me to carry out my dreams and honor him and the beautiful person he was. I feel I’m doing all of these things. I’ve also had to become my mum’s rock and support her through this as well. I definitely underestimated my strength.
If you were affected by cancer, what are the two biggest things you learned from this experience?
Never give up hope! Despite the prognosis or what you have been told, you should never give up! Fight it out with everything you have and you will be surprised with the strength you actually have.
The second thing would be to do whatever it is my heart desires. Anything you’ve said you’re going to do and put off, DO IT! Even without a cancer diagnosis, life is to short not too!
What was your motivation to become a MCA advocate for the month?
My dad and my other meso warrior friends who have passed on, they are definitely been my inspiration. Even though they aren’t here with us physically, I want to carry on their legacy and make sure they are always remembered and honored as truly amazing people. I also know my dad would want me to be involved and raise awareness everywhere possible! So this is for him!
If you could say one thing to the world about cancer, or mesothelioma specifically, what would it be?
I would say this to suppliers and distributors of asbestos materials– DON’T DO IT! Until one of their family members or close friends is diagnosed, they will continue to be careless. Stop being so ignorant to the facts and ban asbestos products! It’s sickening to know people are more worried about making financial gains than the risks associated with the products. My dad wasn’t aware of the dangers, but in this day and age we all are so STOP IT! BAN IT! DESTROY IT!
Is there anything else you would like to say to the MCA community?
We are all in this together. By creating an alliance we are making a difference. Although there is currently no cure, I remain optimistic! All we can do at the moment is raise awareness and prevent future diagnosis.
For anyone battling mesothelioma or who has a loved one battling, NEVER GIVE UP! Never stop telling them how much you love them and how proud you are of all their accomplishments. Make them comfortable and accept their choice to a good quality of life rather them treatment. They know their body and how much it can tolerate and sometimes it’s for the best.