Sydney, Australia—Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd recently announced the opening of a foundation which will pay tribute to mesothelioma sufferer and social justice campaigner Bernie Banton.
The Bernie Banton Foundation will not only help patients who have been diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease such as mesothelioma and asbestosis, but will also help fund research into the treatment and cure of those diseases. Banton was the public face of asbestos diseases, including mesothelioma, until his death in November 2007. He is also remembered for battling corporate giant James Hardie in order to secure compensation both for his own family and for all asbestos victims. An average workingman who contracted mesothelioma, asbestosis and asbestos-related lung cancer after being exposed to asbestos while working in a Hardie plant, Banton was only 61 when he died from complications of peritoneal mesothelioma. One of the rarest forms of mesothelioma, peritoneal mesothelioma is a cancer which affects the membranous lining of the stomach and abdominal cavity.
Caused by inhalation or ingestion of asbestos fibers, it has no known cure and is difficult to treat, owing in part to the fact that it is often not diagnosed until its latest stages. Sufferers from mesothelioma endure great pain, and generally do not live more than two years after diagnosis. One of the foundation’s initiatives is a program called “Bernie’s Angels.” The angels will be both volunteer and professional aides who will assist newly diagnosed asbestos-disease sufferers in their home or in the hospital, and provide emotional support, information and practical advice. Banton’s widow, Karen, will be one of the first angels. The Bernie Banton Foundation estimates that some 40,000 Australians will have contracted a cancer due to asbestos, like mesothelioma, by the year 2020. Even though asbestos use is now heavily regulated—although not entirely outlawed, as many people mistakenly believe—the reason for this delay is the disease’s long latency period. Mesothelioma may develop within the body for up to 50 years before becoming symptomatic.