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Awareness can make all the difference to the lives of people dealing with cancer. It has helped improve the survival rates and quality of life for people facing a huge range of diseases. But the work isn't done.

Hundreds of British Columbians are suffering with asbestos-related diseases, and many are still suffering alone. It doesn't have to be that way.

Already awareness has helped remove asbestos from the building sites. It's no longer used for new construction in Canada. It was widely used once, however, and we're still surrounded by it and its legacy.

Asbestos is in our homes, schools, hospitals and other public buildings, even in our ferries. Asbestos fibres can linger in the lungs for 20-50 years before leading to signs of disease. Mesothelioma is a cancer caused only by asbestos. Asbestosis is a painful, sometimes fatal, lung disease described as feeling like lungs "filled full of broken glass." Both conditions are caused by exposure to asbestos fibres.

Mike Katzko of Nanaimo was diagnosed with lung cancer and died three months later. Mike had never smoked, but he had been exposed to asbestos many years before. An autopsy showed that his cancer was mesothelioma. Anne Gerard of Victoria was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2010. She almost beat the disease, but diagnosis and support came too late. Other British Columbians are suffering from asbestos related diseases and may not even know it.

Asbestos is BC's number one occupational killer. Former UBC Health Policy researcher, Paul Demers has reported that an estimated 300 people a year die from asbestos-related diseases in BC each year and this number is predicted to increase.

The Canadian Society for Asbestos Victims (, founded by Mike Katzko's son Bob, is working to raise awareness of asbestos related diseases and to connect patients and families with the available services and funding.

Currently Canada lags far behind other countries. There are very few services across the country, and it also lags in providing compensation. The clear link between asbestos exposure and disease means that many patients and families are eligible for compensation if the link can be established. The US has developed a system involving claims on trusts from the bankruptcies of former manufacturers. In the UK, injured people sue employers. Canadians have access to these systems as well as to the national and provincial compensation.

CanSAV hosts town hall meetings across the province to help people understand health and compensation options and the legacy of asbestos. The meetings explain the available services, and the work for change in BC and Canada. Search out a town hall meeting near you - or offer to sponsor a meeting in your community. By sponsoring a meeting you can help your family, friends and neighbours better understand the options available to workers, patients and families

CanSAV would like to hear from you. Contact Sheryl Thompson, The Canadian Society for Asbestos Victims,, 1-877-922-6728.

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