As the UK marks the 23rd anniversary of the ban on the use and sale of asbestos (Thursday 24 November), a Middlesbrough woman is raising awareness of its dangers for people of all ages, after being diagnosed with an asbestos disease aged just 38.

Helen Bone, now 40, was diagnosed with mesothelioma in August 2021, after she started suffering from pain in her abdomen.

 

Ms Bone started chemotherapy in September 2021 to shrink the cancer, and has since been referred into a trial called MiST (5), which aims to find out if certain targeted drugs can treat mesothelioma that continues to grow or come back after chemotherapy.

Woman sitting on a couch looking out the window
Helen Bone, 40, was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2021

The former advanced critical care practitioner has turned to Thompsons Solicitors – the law firm which brought the first successful asbestos disease claim to the House of Lords 50 years ago – to support her with a claim for compensation.

Thompsons Solicitors is investigating whether asbestos was present at the Brambles Primary School, Keldholme Secondary School and Teesside Tertiary College for Health and Social Care, where she studied as a child. The firm is also seeking to understand whether asbestos was present at the former Middlesbrough General Hospital and the James Cook University Hospital, where Helen has worked since she was 17.

Ms Bone said: “I absolutely loved my job. I studied hard and worked in my dream career – knowing I will never return to that is really hard to come to terms with.

“As a mother of two teenage daughters and a younger stepdaughter, this diagnosis has been devastating. You always think of asbestos as a disease from decades ago – affecting men who worked in heavy industry – so to be diagnosed in my 30s is shocking.

“Naturally I want to see my children grow up but now I have to come to terms with the thought that this might not happen.”

The use of asbestos was banned in the UK on 24 November 1999 but is still present in 1.5 million of public buildings in the UK. A total of 2,544 mesothelioma deaths were recorded in Great Britain in 2020, a rise of six per cent compared with 2019, with the North East having the highest rate of deaths.

In 2020, there were 459 female mesothelioma deaths in the UK, a rise of seven percent compared with 2019 and higher than the average of 416 deaths per year over the previous eight years. This is consistent with predictions that there will continue to be 400-500 female mesothelioma deaths per year during the 2020s.

“It is shocking when you look at the stats,” Helen Bone said. “I think people need to start asking themselves, is my environment, home and workplace safe? It is still so difficult to accept that my school – and later workplace – could have left me with this disease, despite the fact that the dangers of asbestos have been known for decades.”

 

A woman walking a dog in the woods
Helen walking her dog, Alfie

Helen Bone has set up her own blog called ‘It is what it is’ to document her journey following a mesothelioma diagnosis, in hope that it will be comforting for her children to read back on. She also uses it as a platform to help raise awareness of more young people and women like herself having an asbestos disease.

 

Charlie Bradley, of Thompsons Solicitors, said: “I have worked on asbestos disease cases for over nine years, and never have I come across such a tragic case where a woman as young as Helen has been diagnosed with mesothelioma.

“She has not been on construction sites, or worked in the shipyard, but has simply gone to school as a child and worked in a healthcare environment as an adult, yet this has led her to have an incurable asbestos cancer.

“I would urge anyone who worked with, or who went to school with Helen, and can corroborate that asbestos was present in these areas, to contact us as soon as possible.

“Helen’s case acts as a reminder that just because asbestos use was banned in 1999, the impact of the substance is far from a thing of the past. Those responsible need to increase their efforts for the proper identification, containment and removal of all asbestos in buildings across the UK.”