Tim’s story: Fighting for awareness for 20 years

When Tim McGann was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2005, he and his family were stunned. Tim had never worked with asbestos and at only 40 years old, was one of the youngest patients to have mesothelioma in the UK.

Sadly, Tim died only four months after his diagnosis but his wife, Rosalind, is still actively raising awareness about the asbestos-related disease and the dangers that the deadly dust can pose, even today.

“We never thought it would be cancer”

When Tim began showing symptoms, he and his family didn’t think it would be something as serious as cancer.

“His symptoms were vague,” Rosalind recalls. “He had chest pain and issues with his gallbladder for several months initially. Then he got laryngitis which caused him to lose his voice.

“We kept typing his symptoms into Google and the term ‘mesothelioma’ kept coming up – we’d never even heard of it, but we kept thinking it couldn’t be that.”

When Tim got pleurisy a few weeks later, the doctor sent him for an x-ray. However, while waiting for the results, he fell ill again and was admitted to A&E where doctors discovered he had pneumonia and spent four days running bacterial infection tests on him.

“The test were ruling more and more things out and soon, doctors found that Tim’s lung was white,” Rosalind says. “That’s when he was sent for a biopsy so that they could determine the cause of all of this.”

A week later, the results were in – and Tim was officially diagnosed with mesothelioma.

Trying to determine how Tim had been exposed

The diagnosis was a blow to Tim and his family.

“We were devastated,” Rosalind says. “We just felt like our future had been ripped away from us. Our son was only eight then, and we made the decision not to tell him until he broke up for his school holidays and had some time to process the news.

“A lot of mesothelioma patients tend to be older and because Tim was only 40, we didn’t know how or when he’d been exposed.”

Tim and Rosalind eventually came to the conclusion that he was likely to have been exposed at school.

“We are the generation that used asbestos mats in science labs and asbestos gloves in metal work without a second thought,” Rosalind says. “With the amount of asbestos within the fabric of the building, we think he could also have been exposed that way.”

Looking for treatment options

Tim was determined to fight the cancer and began treating it with chemotherapy.

“He managed three courses of it,” Rosalind says. “But he was so determined to fight it for as long as he could. We had months of hospital appointments and less was known about mesothelioma at the time, so there were fewer specialists.”

Tim even got an appointment at Glenfield Hospital to discuss radical surgery as treatment – but sadly by that point, the disease was too far advanced.

“It was another blow for us,” Rosalind explains. “But the hospice Tim was in was excellent. The community nurses really looked after him and did everything they could to help him.”

Sadly, only four months after he was diagnosed, Tim passed away.

“I was shocked,” Rosalind says. “I didn’t think it would happen so fast and with Tim being younger than most patients, I thought he’d be able to fight it for a bit longer. Even the coroner had to double check his age – he’d never dealt with a mesothelioma patient under 70.”

Raising awareness for a mesothelioma-free future

Today, almost 20 years after his death, Rosalind is still shocked at how little awareness there is about asbestos, the risks it carries and how easy it is to be exposed.

“I have more awareness now than back when Tim was diagnosed because I work in private healthcare,” she says. “I work in compliance and come across asbestos surveys in my job, but I’m staggered by the flippancy of some companies around this, particularly in schools.”

Rosalind is determined to raise awareness about asbestos, both at work and in her personal life.

“I’ve done some fundraising in the past,” she says. “But I also check asbestos reports at work and make sure that when companies change contractors, the reports stay consistent. It’s so important that people are aware of asbestos registers so no one else will be exposed unnecessarily.

“To anyone who is affected by mesothelioma, I would say use your voice and push for an early diagnosis. Start asking questions – there is more knowledge now and more specialists who can really help you, so take advantage of all the support available to rebuild your life before it’s too late.”

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Disclaimer: These stories are based on personal experience and do not constitute medical advice. We recommend you speak to your healthcare team or phone our support line if you have any questions relating to your care or treatment.