Australian photographer Christopher Ireland first learned about the asbestos cancer mesothelioma as a teenager, when a friend’s father passed away from the disease. Ten years later, he began meeting women who had lost their husbands to the disease. Now, he has a new exhibit of photographs which he hopes will showcase the women’s pain, as well as to increase awareness of malignant mesothelioma and the dangers of asbestos.
The new exhibit, which is entitled “Breathe,” features portraits of 14 women, all of whose husbands succumbed to mesothelioma. Ireland met with the women, spoke with them, and learned about their husbands during the project.
One of the women featured in the exhibit is Karen Banton, whose husband Bernie Banton was active in campaigning for asbestos awareness before his death from mesothelioma in 2007. He contracted mesothelioma, asbestosis and asbestos-related pleural disease during his career at Australian building-products manufacturer James Hardie.
Mesothelioma, a rare cancer, is almost exclusively caused by inhalation or ingestion of asbestos fibers. These fibers, which are microscopic, can lodge deep into the body’s soft tissues, including the lungs and the mesothelium – the thin protective membrane that covers the lungs and lines the body’s cavities. This disease can start in the lungs (pleural mesothelioma), the heart (pericardial mesothelioma) and the abdomen (peritoneal mesothelioma).
Mesothelioma is unusual in that it has a very long latency period, and the disease is not usually diagnosed until long after the exposure to asbestos began. By the time it is recognized, moreover, it has generally reached a later stage and is difficult to treat. Although there is currently no cure for mesothelioma, patients can opt for palliative treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation, to ease their symptoms and make them more comfortable.
The photography exhibit was featured at the Australian Centre for Photography, and will be on display at the Latrobe Regional Gallery in Australia in September and October.