Mesothelioma in an English Village 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



Regular visitors to this website will know that each and every item has something to do with asbestos; as for people new to the IBAS site, well they'll just have to figure that one out for themselves. But bear with me for a while; I will eventually get to the point.

Today I had the occasion to travel to deepest Cambridgeshire to a village called Hemingford Abbotts, about 12 miles from Cambridge. It is, without a shadow of a doubt, picture perfect. There is a welcoming bulletin board in the center of the village which highlights local points of interest such as the Old Cricket Pavilion, the Axe & Compass, St. Margaret of Antioch Church and the Manor House. Local flora such as the reed mace and yellow flag are pictured on the board as are local fauna including Muntjae Deer, Grey Heron and Reed Warblers.



The Axe & Compass Pub


St. Margaret of Antioch

All the requisites for “ye olde-worlde” village life are present; there is even a river with a white swan serenely gliding by as a flotilla of ducks floats downstream. In contrast with the placid water and calm wildlife, a frustrated fisherman was spending his Friday afternoon grappling with a tangled fishing line on the riverbank. So humor, tranquillity and heritage all tied up in one nice little package called Hemingford Abbots. And the final touch, the red telephone box standing sentry next to the red pillar box; England summed up in two pieces of street furniture!


Hollywood could not have done it better

I was invited today to spend the afternoon with members of the Papworth Mesothelioma Support Group, a self-help group which meets once a month in the Hemingford Abbots Village Hall. 1


The group used to meet at Papworth Hospital where they or their loved ones were being treated for asbestos cancer until it was realized that the hospital held too many unpleasant connotations for the members. Action was taken and a new venue was found: the village hall at Hemingford Abbots.

Today (October 5) was the October meeting and I was invited to address the group. As people filed in from the car park there was catching up to do and information to exchange. Christmas cards and raffle tickets were being sold to raise funds for the group. It was a social gathering like any other with a low rumble of conversation, jokes and pleasantries. As people drifted over to the seats at the front of the hall, Chairman Peter Robinson opened the session by welcoming members. He reminded everyone about the availability of Christmas cards and held them up for inspection. One of the cards featured a solitary hare amidst a snow-covered field. One bright spark in the audience quipped that at least the card had some hare even if the Chairman did not. Peter, having the lightest of coverings on his head, quipped back: “That's why I like this card. At least it has hair.”

It was a great atmosphere and people were comfortable and relaxed. For a short while anyway, they could forget the next hospital appointment or tests results. They were with others who understood what they were going through and there was Gerry's chocolate rocky road refrigerator cake to look forward to. Peter, who is an inveterate fan of this confection, warned people off saying they would most definitely not like it. Unfortunately for him, everyone there was wise to his stratagem. (He was wrong, by the way. The sweet was delicious!)

When my turn came, I presented a brief overview of the global asbestos situation in 2012. People were shocked to hear that although the asbestos hazard had been known for more than a hundred years in Britain, throughout the world 2 million tonnes of asbestos were still being used every year. Pictures shown of asbestos conditions in India appalled them with one man remarking that the photos from one workshop reminded him of how things used to be when he was an apprentice in England. During the lively discussion after the talk, questions were asked about the availability of asbestos-free alternatives and the prospects of an asbestos ban being introduced into Canada.

It was a privilege to spend time with the folks from Papworth, most of whose lives had been turned upside down by mesothelioma. One of the ladies however told me that she had not lost anyone to mesothelioma but came along once a month to make the tea because she was a volunteer. The support group was started in November 2008 at the suggestion of mesothelioma patient Dave Phillips; it is open to anyone with mesothelioma and not just people being treated at Papworth.2 Gerry Slade, a Mesothelioma Clinical Nurse Specialist, who had just started working at Papworth Hospital, and Peter and Sarah Robinson, who were caring for Sarah's father who had mesothelioma, took on the organizational challenge. The support group grew quickly and then another group was set up for carers which meets once a month. There is a newsletter which informs members of upcoming events such as Summer barbecues, river cruises, monthly meetings, Christmas lunches etc.3 The friendships made and tested during the trying times of living with mesothelioma have proved long and lasting, so much so that a third group has now been set up for those bereaved by mesothelioma so that contact is not lost with their Papworth friends.


Mesothelioma can strike anybody, anywhere. But it seems that in rural England the fellowship of some amazing people can help make that experience a little bit better. I am sure Dave Phillips would have been proud of what has come of his idea.

Oct 5 2012


1 Papworth Mesothelioma support Group website:

2 For more information on the group, please phone Gerry Slade on 01480 364889.

3 Newsletters of the Papworth Mesothelioma Group:



       Home   |    Site Info   |    Site Map   |    About   |    Top↑