Advocate of the Month – August 2014 logo

The Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance would like to thank Marcus Lovett for sharing the story of how mesothelioma affected his mother and his family’s lives as our August Advocate of the Month. Marcus’ mother’s mesothelioma diagnosis inspired him to share a documentary about his experience with his mother’s mesothelioma and exploring lifestyle habits and emotions associated with major life events, like cancer. Read on and share Marcus’ story.

Mid 2006, I was on a long road trip when I got the call from Dad. Mum had been diagnosed with cancer and she didn’t have long to live. My first reaction was my first born will never know their grandmother, not that my wife was even pregnant at the time. Then the first stages of grief kicked in, denial. This isn’t possible. All my friends would say how my mum was the healthiest 69 year old they knew. Mum even had a goal to live to 100, and we all believed it.

My Mum was diagnosed with mesothelioma. It took me awhile just to figure out how to say that word.

I went through Kubler-Ross’ five stages of grief fairly quickly and was content with accepting my mother’s inevitable death. Strange since my whole family, except for me, was in the healthcare industry; my Mum was trained as a nurse, my Dad is a pharmacist who became a chiropractor, my oldest sister is also a chiropractor, and my other sister is a nutritionist and is married to a chiropractor. Then there is me, a ski bum, that made a television show all about skiing around the world.

I was the main caretaker for my Mum in the last week of her life, and she too had assumed her fate. Although there was one last minute reprieve where Mum had decided not to die and requested me to call all the family to tell them that she would fight this. I supported her stand, but said, “instead of calling anyone, let’s just start with you, and when you start getting better, then I’ll call.” I didn’t really believe she would survive, especially at this late stage.

My father’s birthday was coming up and Mum insisted on a big party. She was so frail and thin, so far removed from the vibrant Janet Lovett we all knew. Mum insisted on a photographer, though none of the family wanted to remember Mum this way, but we played along with her. It was like we were having a “live” wake for Mum.

In hindsight, I’m annoyed with myself for being so accepting of Mum’s death. We were a family of believers, that anything was possible, yet we sat around philosophising the celebration of life at death.

Mum died a week after my Dad’s birthday in late October 2006. We were all there in the house when Mum drew her last breath– Dad, my 2 older sisters, and me. We spent the week grieving together and trying to figure out why. It was good to spend the week together and it was cathartic.

The question “why?” swam around in my head for years. Mum was exposed to asbestos during the renovations of our house in the 70s, and so were all of us in the family. Why did Mum die and not the rest of us? If not all people die that are exposed to a carcinogen, then what is the other factor or factors that lead to their demise? And I don’t believe in luck.

This set me on a path of making a documentary titled, “What ate my Mum? And will it eat me?” It was incredibly therapeutic for me and I sometimes wish I was armed with the knowledge I have now back then at Mum’s diagnosis. Perhaps it’s the life experience I had to have, like HG Well’s character Alexander Hartdegen in The Time Machine.

My Mum appeared to do everything right, but the one thing she didn’t do could be just the thing that saves me, if there were any chance asbestos was to take me down. My Mum suffered a lot of tragedy in her own family and never took the opportunity to grieve. Research has shown, the inability to express grief is as dangerous as smoking. I have been fortunate enough to be able to acknowledge my emotions and release them. My documentary is not a witch hunt or a miracle cure, but it’s a story any person who has lost someone to cancer or any illness will relate to.