Rex and Helen Nightingale ease the worry of asbestos-related illnesses with caravan holidays.
Rex and Helen Nightingale ease the worry of asbestos-related illnesses with caravan holidays. Sarah Harvey

Husband and wife fight asbestosis

REX and Helen Nightingale are all too familiar with the terrible curse of asbestos exposure.

Asbestos-related diseases have ravaged their lungs and ruined their health.

Mr Nightingale, as a carpenter, worked on buildings riddled with asbestos. His wife Helen washed his clothes which carried the deadly asbestos fibres.

"I was devastated when diagnosed with asbestosis in 1996, after having an x-ray of my chest for an unrelated problem," Mr Nightingale said.

"The pleura (lining of the lung) gets affected and sets like concrete, squeezing the life out of the lung.

"I was a builder. Back in those days, houses were all lined with asbestos.

"Asbestosis is a hideous thing - you only need to breathe in one fibre of asbestos and you can get it."

The first sign of an asbestos-related disease for Mrs Nightingale was deformed "club fingers" five years ago.

"A chest x-ray was taken, showing cancer in the lung," she said.

"This was treated very successfully with radiation.

"Some people have no idea they have the disease. They may have shortness of breath and loss of energy."

Mrs Nightingale said four different types of asbestos-related diseases had been defined.

"Mesothelioma is the really nasty one. None of it is curable," she said.

"It's all horrible. Avoid and prevent is the only answer.

"This thing can't be conquered so you've just got to get on with your life."

The Nightingales are members of the Ipswich Asbestos Support Group which was set up about eight years ago.

"The need for such a group became apparent with the steady increase of asbestos-related diseases being diagnosed," Mrs Nightingale said.

"A cuppa and chat, with exchange of information, can ease one's mind when faced with this disease.

"The road is not so lonely when walking with others.

"Our family and friends, each in their own way, give us strength. Plus Stuart Diver, the sole survivor of the 1997 Thredbo landslide.

"We learnt from his lessons in survival."

The Nightingales try to inform others about the dangers of asbestos, and comfort those who have succumbed to related diseases. They say more information should be out in the community.

Caravanning is the main interest for this couple, who have been happily married for 54 years.

"Meeting people, seeing amazing little towns and always learning. Never a dull moment out there on the road," Mrs Nightingale said.

For information contact the Asbestos Support Group.