Six months to live, then he found a hero

GARRY Cox didn’t reckon the “six months to live” scenario was the best option to take.

The retired Albury builder had just been diagnosed with mesothelioma, caused by exposure to asbestos.

He had gone to his GP after experiencing shortness of breath and generally feeling unwell.

Then a golfing mate, a cardiac specialist, recommended he get a second opinion from a renowned Sydney surgeon, Professor Brian McCaughan.

A couple of weeks after his diagnosis, on his 58th birthday, Mr Cox had his right lung removed.

Yesterday, more than five years after his life-saving surgery, Mr Cox urged Border residents — as part of Asbestos Awareness Week — to take the risk from asbestos seriously.

Mr Cox said people undertaking renovations of older houses, specifically those about pre-1987, had to get expert advice and qualified tradespeople to look for and then remove asbestos.

The dangers posed by asbestos simply were not known when Mr Cox began as an apprentice 50 years ago.

Even after his diagnosis — more than 20 years after asbestos sheeting stopped being produced and used in Australia — he had no clear idea of what he could do.

“It was just ‘get your affairs in order, you’ve got six months to live’,” he said.

“It wasn’t a good option, I thought.”

Mr Cox was due to play golf in Melbourne three days after his diagnosis. It was an annual event with a dozen friends, one of them the heart specialist.

“He said whatever you do, get up to Sydney and see this guru of mesothelioma,” Mr Cox said.

To even be considered for the surgery he had to be fit and healthy, to have never smoked and to be in the early stages of mesothelioma. His lymph nodes had to be cancer free.

Four hours after a PET scan Professor McCaughan told him he was a candidate for the radical surgery.

“I said then and there that I’d have it,” he said.

Mr Cox took his surgeon’s advice to go home and have a think about it over the weekend, although by the Monday his answer remained the same and he was booked in for June 19, 2007.

“He said ‘I could put it off for a week if you wish’ but I said ‘no, no that’s the best birthday present I could have’,” he said.

“It took six to 12 months to get back to a decent lifestyle again.”

Mr Cox said he was “pretty happy” to have the “rock” of support from his wife, Lynne, to do everything for him.

His strength is not great, and having just the smaller capacity left lung means he is susceptible to pneumonia and flu and has to avoid the grandkids when they’re sick.

But Mr Cox is able to go walks, a daily enjoyment at Noreuil Park.

“I’m OK on the flat but when I get to stairs or hills I slow down,” he said.

Mr Cox said was forever grateful that he had sought out Professor McCaughan.

“I wouldn’t be here unless I found my hero as I call him,” he said.

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