Day of Mourning: Charmaine Salterís Story
Welcome to Health and Safety to Go, a production of the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety.
CCOHS: Thank you for joining us for this episode of Health and Safety to Go. Our guest today is Charmaine Salter from Threads for Life. Charmaine Salterís father Ronald Garland was an electrician who was repeatedly exposed to asbestos throughout his career. Ron was diagnosed with mesothelioma and passed away at the age of 75. Charmaine is here today to share her personal story to help spread awareness about the importance of workplace safety. Thank you for joining us today Charmaine.
Charmaine: Thank you for asking me.
Charmaine: Not at all. My father, Ronald Garland, was diagnosed with mesothelioma in June of 2011. He first noticed a nagging cough shortly after Christmas and when that cough persisted into March his doctor sent him for chest x-rays. When he got the chest x-rays they could see something on his lung so they sent him for further testing. At that point his doctor called him back into the office, and I had gone with Mom and Dad, and when they came out Dad just motioned for us to come outside. So we went outside and Dad said that they had found cancer; which was shocking for us because we werenít expecting that.
He said at that point they said it was treatable, but not curable. Dad went for another x-ray and I ended up calling my sister from the little town of Wolfville and told her that Dad had just received this diagnosis of cancer. So I was crying on the street of Wolfville and she was crying at her home.
So thatís how this all started. From there he went and had more tests done and he was then diagnosed with mesothelioma which was caused by the repeated exposure to asbestos. He was given, at that point, two to four months to live. As a family we were all very devastated with this diagnosis. Dad was a very healthy, joyful, fun-loving person that loved his family and his friends. He was very active in a lot of different committees. He loved to play music. He had his Gibson guitar that he bought when he and Mom first met and he still continued to play that.
So when he got this diagnosis we hadnít even heard of it. We never knew what mesothelioma was. And to find out that it was caused by an occupational disease, from asbestos, was very shocking to us. Dad would have been exposed in his workplace as an electrician; working in confined places, working with insulated pipes, working on old ships, working in old buildings. So it was very shocking. Even though he was diagnosed with this, Dad thought that he could be the first person that maybe would beat this disease.
He tried every remedy that there was. My sister and I looked up everything. He went to naturopaths. And when he went to see his surgeon, the surgeon looked at him and said that, ďit says here that youíre a man of 74?Ē And Dad said ďyes sir, I amĒ, ďbut you donít look it, you look like a man of 60.Ē† He said ďyouíre not ready to die yet.Ē And Dad said ďno sir, Iím notĒ. But unfortunately all the doctor could give him was palliative care. There is no cure for mesothelioma.
He continued to work at home and whatever he could. When he was faced with death he chose life. He continued to play his guitar. When he turned 75 in August we had a huge birthday party for him and he enjoyed that but at the same time it was heartbreaking because that was probably the last birthday that Dad was going to see.
Our family has been devastated with the loss of Dad. We continue to try to live our life the best we can. My mother, Dad was her soul mate. They were so active. You saw Mom, you saw Dad. They went dancing and had a lot of friends over. Strangers became friends and friends became family. We grew up in a very, very happy home.
Dad was always a very hard worker. He took great pride in providing for his family. It was hard to believe, seeing this man go to work every day with a smile on his face, to find out, basically 50 years later, that he has breathed in these deadly fibres and while he was busy living life all of a sudden he finds out that he has an asbestos-related disease.
CCOHS: Why do you think itís important to support families who have been affected by a workplace tragedy?
Charmaine: Whenever I attend a Threads of Life event, whether itís for training or the familiesí forum, or the Steps for Life walk, you hear and feel peopleís grief. People are broken. Theyíve suffered a life altering injury, an occupational disease, or a workplace fatality. We are all learning to live with a great loss in our life. Our loved ones never leave us. We are trying to find a new normal. At Threads of Life we are safe place for people to land after suffering a workplace tragedy. There are lots of tears. They can express anger. They can express frustration. Itís just a good organization when youíre in a place you donít want to be in your life.
I feel that itís very important to support people who have gone through a workplace tragedy.
CCOHS: If you could give one piece of advice to people about safety on the job what would it be?
Charmaine: I would say, take a look around. If something looks unsafe, or if youíre questioning whether the material in a particular item might have asbestos in it, or if itís just not a safe thing for you to be doing, then donít do it. You do have the right to refuse to do an unsafe job. You have lots of loved oneís waiting at home for you. We want everyone to go home safe.
CCOHS: Thank you. Before we wrap up, are there any closing thoughts youíd like to leave us with?
Charmaine: Yes. I want to say that, when I speak, I speak to bring awareness, education and prevention about the importance of workplace safety. In my case there is no safe amount of asbestos. It is deadly. If I can prevent one person from being affected by mesothelioma or asbestos then my father will not have died in vain.
Asbestos is a deadly carcinogen and worldwide weíre seeing its impact increase. When Dad was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2011 the doctor called it a rare cancer. Today, just seven years later, itís the number one cause of workplace death, not only in Canada, but around the world. This has got to stop.
CCOHS: Thank you Charmaine.
Charmaine: Youíre very welcome.
CCOHS: Thank you again for sharing your story with us today. Charmaine Salter is a speaker for Threads of Life, an organization that helps families of workplace tragedy along their journey of healing by providing unique family support programs and services. Every year thousands of people across Canada walk in the Steps for Life fundraising event that follows Day of Mourning and kicks off Health and Safety Week in North America. More information can be found at www.stepsforlife.ca and www.ccohs.ca. Thank you for listening everyone.