After being diagnosed with Mesothelioma and given two years to live Serafina Salucci was determined to raise the public awareness of asbestos-related disease.
That was 11 years ago and in that time Mrs Salucci has taken her cause to Canberra to bring the issue to national attention.
For her efforts, Mrs Salucci of Loftus has been appointed a Member (AM) in the general division of the Order of Australia for her significant service to community health, particularly as an advocate for people with asbestos related diseases.
“This disease has happened to me for a reason,” she said. “I’ve had to make a positive out of what is a devastating situation.
Since being diagnosed with Mesothelioma 11 years ago, Mrs Salucci has undergone surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy, while being a mum to her four children.
She has also become an advocate of the National Asbestos Awareness campaign and a member of the consumer advisory panel of the Cancer Institute of NSW, and a member of the Consumer Review Panel for the Cancer Council of NSW.
“I was diagnosed Mesothelioma in April 2007 aged 37 and told that that was asbestos -related,” she said.
“I don’t know for sure how I came in contact with asbestos. I’ve never renovated or worked with it. I used to be a book-keeper.
“From the time you come in contact to your diagnosis can be 10 to 50 years, so in theory I could have been exposed from the time I was born.
“The most obvious cause was when I was about eight my father bought his first car and built a garage in the backyard at Randwick out of fibro.
“My brothers and I were playing in the backyard at the time and I remember playing with the off-cuts of fibro. I remember picking it up and writing with it on the concrete.
“We just played with it and kicked it around. We were just kids. My brothers were nine and five and the time. They are still healthy now, but it takes as little as one fibre of asbestos to get stuck in your lungs to cause Mesothelioma.
“I was diagnosed in 2007. I had a cough that wouldn’t go away. After about four weeks I went to the GP and she sent me for an X-ray which showed I had Mesothelioma.
“It was a huge shock. I was playing sport and doing a lot of walking. I felt fine. I’ve got four kids who were 10, 8, 6 and three at the time.
“There is no cure for Mesothelioma and no form of early detection and there are limited treatment options.
“The prognosis for Mesothelioma is pretty bleak. I was told I had two years. That was 11 years ago.
“I had a year of chemo and then I had surgery where I had my right lung removed, followed by radiotherapy.
“Then it came back.
“Over the years I’ve had my diaphragm, right kidney and half my liver removed.
“At the moment I feel fine. I have my ups and down and get tired.”
Mrs Salucci is able to say that she has been able to see some positive things come out of her long battle with Mesothelioma.
She successfully lobbied for the establishment of a national Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency in 2013.
“Until then there were state bodies but not a co-ordinated national body. I went to Canberra as a patient-advocate, spoke to the politicians and was able to secure $10 million to establish the agency. It is the first national body to deal with asbestos.”
She will continue her work raising awareness and funds for research into asbestos related disease.
“People think asbestos is an old issue but it is still in many buildings including hospitals and schools,” she said.
“Australia has the highest incidence of Mesothelioma per capita of any country in the world. Over 700 people are diagnosed every year and thousands more with other asbestos related diseases.
“I want people to be educated that it is still out there. If they are renovating, be cautious and wherever possible call in a professional to deal with it.
“I don’t want people to get this disease in the future.”