'It's pretty bleak': Woman is diagnosed with terminal cancer 30 years after she was exposed as a 7-year-old to asbestos when she helped her father build a garage

April 22, 2016 at 2:07 PM

When Serafina Salucci was seven years old she played with the asbestos sheeting her father used to build the family's garage in suburban Sydney.
Thirty years later, she was diagnosed with an incurable cancer that doctors say was caused by exposure to the asbestos sheeting used to construct the building.

Ms Salucci had never worked near an asbestos factory and hadn't been in direct contact with asbestos after the event. Serafina Salucci was diagnosed with an incurable cancer that doctors say was caused by exposure to the asbestos sheeting used to construct her family garage

The only time she did handle asbestos was, like thousands of other children in the 1960s and 1970s, when she and her brothers threw it around and played frisbee with asbestos sheeting without knowing the risks.

To a young child, the white powder-like off-cuts of the sheeting was a good alternative for chalk to draw on the driveway.

But at the age of 37, Ms Salucci, who is a Sydney mother-of-four, was diagnosed with mesothelioma - a cancer of the lung lining.

'In 2007, I got a cough and a persistent cough and it wouldn't go away,' she explained. 'After three or four weeks, I went to the GP [general practitioner] to get rid of it. 

'As a precaution the doctor arranged to get a chest X-ray. That's when they found something. 

'The GP originally thought it was pneumonia... and not too serious.' After she was diagnosed, Ms Salucci took extreme measures to battle the cancer.

Not only did she go through bouts of radiotherapy and chemotherapy but she had her right lung removed in 2008 and other surgeries to remove the cancer when it came back.

Despite the hardships, Ms Salucci said she counted herself lucky as most people who were diagnosed with mesothelioma died within two years, but she had lived for nine.

'It's pretty bleak. Once you get told you have mesothelioma it's a death sentence,' she told Daily Mail Australia.

'There's treatments but there's no cure. It just gives people a bit more time.'

Most people with asbestos-related conditions have shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, constant pain in the chest and weight loss.

Having been a victim of asbestos, Ms Salucci is using her experience to lobby the Federal Government to restore $3 million worth of funding to the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency. 

Ms Salucci, who is also an Asbestos Awareness ambassador, said the money had been allocated to the agency back in 2013 but was taken back by the government when it was not spent in the allocated time.

She believes the agency is important because it educates people on the dangers of asbestos, and would help implement policies and recommendations to reduce the risks of asbestos exposure.

A member of the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Advisory Council, Barry Robson, told The Sydney Morning Herald they had spent a lot of time setting up and ran into a handful of issues, including those to do with staffing.

The issue falls under the portfolio of Employment Minister Michaelia Cash who ordered a review into the agency's funding. 

A spokesman for Senator Cash said the government had not cut funds to the agency and the amount of money set aside by the former Labor government had remained the same.

'The Labor Government provided the funding on the basis that the set-up costs would reduce after the early years and the agency would then focus on its coordination role, working with the states and territories to implement ASEA's National Strategic Plan,' the spokesman told the Herald.

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