A Wagga woman who lost her husband to mesothelioma is urging residents to register their homes to be tested for loose-fill asbestos.
Leanne Billingham said goodbye to her beloved Neil Billingham in April last year.
He was only 53 years old.
Neil was a mechanic and tough Group Nine rugby league player who was well-known in many circles across the city. He was also a Cronulla Sharks tragic.
Leanne is now a volunteer and support worker for the Bernie Banton Foundation – a non-profit organisation named after the social justice campaigner who died of mesothelioma in 2007.
Her husband's diagnosis in 2011 was believed to be caused from brake pads in the 1970s while working as an apprentice mechanic.
“He recalled walking around the garage with white dust everywhere,” Leanne said.
“It only takes one fibre.
“People just think that it won’t happen to them.”
As of Wednesday, 4509 homes in the Wagga City Council area have registered for the state government’s free loose-fill asbestos testing program, with 708 of those tested and only positive result one so far. But Leanne said the numbers weren’t good enough.
“I’m really shocked there has only been a few thousand registered,” she said.
“It’s scary to think of the number of people who may be affected.
“People aren’t taking advantage of the free testing – it’s worth it in the long run.
“It’s a real shame there is a deadline (to register for testing). It should be an open register.
When Neil was diagnosed with asbestos-related cancer, both he and Leanne were oblivious to the word mesothelioma.
“The doctor had to explain and asked ‘do you know Bernie Banton?’,” Leanne said.
“Neil shook his head and said ‘yes’.
“The doctor said that there was no cure and its was terminal.”
Neil bravely fought on, continuing to work until he was unable to do so.
“Neil had a positive attitude,” Leanne said.
“It’s so cruel – he put up a good fight.
“It turns your life upside down. It changes a person. As a carer, you’ve got to keep going.”