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Asbestos: The Serpent In The Rock


Marilyn Bertrand was only five years old when her brother traveled to the province of Quebec, Canada to take a summer job at Thetford Mines. When he returned home, he gave his little sister a souvenir from his summer escapade. It was a furry rock. Delighted, she kept it by her side day and night. Mrs. Bertrand even slept with the rock on her pillow. If she knew then what disaster would follow that furry, cuddly rock, Mrs. Bertrand may not have taken a second glance at it. That furry rock was raw asbestos.

Years later, the rock returned. It all began with acute back pains. After several months of enduring the pain, Mrs. Bertrand sought help. She thought the pains were caused by pneumonia. However, after two excruciating thoracotomies, the doctors had their answer. Five days before Christmas 1994, she was diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma of the pleura. The lack of information on mesothelioma in Canada compounded with her young age caused the delay of the diagnosis. In May 1995, after yet another painful procedure, doctors found an independent mesothelioma tumor in her peritoneum. . She has "borderline cells". Her physicians have given her a 50 to 60% survival rate of 6 to 7 years. A statistic given to women with ovarian cancer with borderline cells. Doctors told Mrs. Bertrand there were neither standard treatment nor clinical trials for mesothelioma in Canada. Marilyn Bertrand could not believe her own ears when the doctors told her the "best thing was to do nothing and enjoy the time you have left".

Two years later, Mrs. Bertrand is enjoying every moment of her life. At the age of 44, she continues to enjoy life and travel with her supportive husband. She is an active woman. In 1991, Marilyn Bertrand cycled across Europe for three months. This was a glorious and strengthening triumph for the human spirit. She is not a person to accept defeat. She eats healthy, maintains a positive attitude and surrounds herself with supportive friends and family. Marilyn Bertrand considers herself lucky. "I count my blessings,"writes Marilyn. Recently, she contacted the Cancer Information Service in Canada with hopes of some progress in the research and development of new treatments being available to Canadian citizens. Mrs. Bertrand has become a fighter, an advocate and a hopefully one day, a victor over mesothelioma.

Note: The Thetford Mines have been a deathtrap for years. Asbestos was mined from the province of Quebec since about 1890. Company officials from Johns Manville, Keasby & Mattison and Asbestos Corporation Limited knew back in 1930 that workers from the Thetford Mines were contracting asbestosis, even though their latency period was around 10 years. The research was never published. Metropolitan Life Insurance provided insurance to the mines and was aware of the occupational hazards. They responded by increasing the price of the premiums. In 1949, Dr. Gerrit Schepers met in Asbestos, Canada with the chief medical doctor for Johns Manville (Dr. Kenneth Smith)and Dr. Paul Cartier, who managed the Thetford Industrial Clinic. Dr. Schepers advised these two doctors that at the Saranac Laboratory in New York they had received tissue from two pleural mesothelioma cases which had been hand delivered to the Lab from the lawyer for the Quebec Asbestos Mining Association. Dr. Cartier published an abstract in 1952 in which he identified eight (8) cases of lung cancer, including two "pleural mesothelioma" cases from the Quebec mines and mills. One of the pleural mesothelioma death cases reported was a Mr. Cooling, who had been the Treasurer of Asbestos Corporation, Ltd, since 1920. Mr. Cooling died in 1949 while presumably a patient of Dr. Cartiers in Thetford. The local clinic who was supposed to be providing medical service to the miners was exposed in 1975 for fraudulently telling miners for years that their health was fine. Some of these patients had asbestosis so bad they died within a few years of the clinic's "stamp of good health."

Marilyn Bertrand's mesothelioma was avoidable, preventable, and inexcusable.

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Message from a Fan!

I am a nurse who has had contact a few times with Marilyn during the past year and a half. She is an inspiration - to those with mesothelioma, certainly - but also to anyone who comes in contact with her for any reason whatsoever. I am grateful to have met her, and my prayers are always with her.

Barbara Buchanan

To: Mr. Worthington
Fr: Bruce Case, M.D.
Dt: August 17, 1998
Re: " Without Prejudice"

This is to inform you that your website posting regarding Marilyn Bertrand contains inaccurate medical description and false allegations regarding the asbestos mines at Thetford, Quebec.

Thank you from Winnipeg (aka frozen tundra)

Dear Roger,

I must admit to you that I have not read the 'meso' site for quite a few months as I have been a little unwell, busy traveling and just trying to enjoy my life. I was stunned when I read the letter from Dr. Case (McGill University-Montreal). I hardly know what to say except that I have a sister-in-law who lives in Montreal and one of her friends was an executive at Thetford Mines and has convinced her that asbestos does not cause cancer! I am speechless. Your response to Dr. Case was superb! Thank you, thank you.

I am sorry to have caused you so much extra work. It was so disappointing to read Dr. Cases' letter. As a mesothelioma patient I do feel very much alone and no wonder. Fortunately for me my cancer is spreading slowly. Last August my blood work results were a disappointment but today I found out that my blood work results (test done yesterday) show only a slight elevation! Hurrah! Hardly any change in 6 months. This is the best news I can hope for. I have the usual pains but feel pretty darn good! Reading your response to Dr. Case made my spirits soar!

My dear husband and I are still busy traveling as much as we can. Last September/October we rented a barge in France and enjoyed the sights on the Soane River. November I was in Ottawa, December I was on a Caribbean Cruise with my sister, January a week in Cozumel, February a week in Vancouver. Unless I get a better offer I will be staying home in March! I send you many thanks and best wishes for continued success.

Bye for now,
Marilyn and Mike Bertrand

p.s. I will check the site more often!

*** POSTED MARCH 1, 1999 ***

July 30, 2002

My husband and I are old friends of Marilyn's. She was a very special person. I have never in my life met a person with more passion to live. Her life was full of ups and downs. She lived every minute of her short life after her diagnoses enjoying all of the pleasures that were available to her. Her husband Michael is a remarkable man. He stood by her side each and every moment. I understand that Marilyn has been taking away from us by god. I would ask that everyone who knew Marilyn to please spend a few moments thinking about the great times we all had with her, and her constant ability to smile and laugh throughtout all of her set backs. Her pain will now be gone and she will be able to continue watching over us as she always did while she was alive. We will truly miss her, and may god bless Michael and give him the strength to carry on until they meet again. I thank you for your time and hope that this courageous story gives hope to other cancer patients who sometimes feel that hope is only a word. Marilyn has in fact brought new definition to the word, HOPE.

We will always remember, God Bless

Leonard and Marlene Finnamore

Mrs. Bertrand passed away on July 18, 2002