Page last updated at 23:25 GMT, Saturday, 4 April 2009 00:25 UK

'I'm going to keep on running'

By Jane Elliott
Health reporter, BBC News

Steve Lee
Steve, with his wife Ros, after finishing this year's half marathon

When Steve Lee completed last weekend's Reading half marathon in two hours and 45 minutes he was delighted.

It was not his fastest time by any means - he used to complete the 13 mile course one hour faster.

But 18 months ago, Steve, aged 63, from Reading, was diagnosed with the asbestos-related lung cancer mesothelioma and warned that he might just have a year to live.

He said: "Just the week before the run I had been in hospital having several litres of fluid removed from my lungs.

If I am fit and running and exercising my lungs then that might be helping me
Steve Lee

"I did stop running for a bit after my initial diagnosis.

"I was so shocked, thinking I had only months, but then I thought: 'Let's just live and see what happens'.

"I did actually run the Reading half-marathon last year as well, but nobody knew I was ill and thought that my slow time was because I was running with my wife.

"At the start of this year I thought I would run as many races as I can to raise money for charity, just keep running."

He said he was delighted to be able to finish this year's half-marathon - and to have raised £3,000 for a charity, the June Hancock Mesothelioma Research Fund.

'I'm pretty perky'

Steve said he was currently feeling well and puts this down to his running regime, which consists of regular three weekly runs of about five miles.

"You get an adrenalin rush when you run," he said.

"I don't feel really ill at all, although I do feel a little discomfort as if there is something stuck in my right lung.

"I am pretty perky and people say I look reasonably well.

A cancer of the mesothelial cells which cover the outer surface of the lungs and, less commonly, the abdomen
Most cases caused by exposure to asbestos
The tiny fibres which make up asbestos are breathed in and irritate the lining of the lung, causing cell damage
Alternatively, the fibres may be coughed up and swallowed, leading to damage to the abdomen
The UK mesothelioma death rate is now the highest in the world, with 1,749 deaths in men in 2005

"My line is, whether medically proven or not, that if I am fit and running and exercising my lungs then that might be helping me.

"It is certainly not doing me any harm."

Professor Julian Peto, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the Institute of Cancer Research, an expert on mesothelioma, said Steve's case did appear remarkable.

"He has obviously done very well, as most people are dead within the year.

"It does seem remarkable that he has completed a half-marathon bcause it affects your lungs, but it is probably true that his keeping fit is keeping him well."

Professor Peto added that the UK now has the highest death rate in the world from mesothelioma, with over 2,000 deaths a year.

And he said that those in the building trade were at the highest risk.

"The very highest risks are in carpenters. They are a very really bad risk because they sawed the stuff up, but all building workers are at risk.

"It is pretty well almost always fatal."

'It killed my father too'

Steve is not certain how he contracted the infection, but believes it was when working with his father during university holidays on building sites.

But he believes his whole family were also vulnerable because they lived in an asbestos-built prefabricated bungalow in Canvey Island, Essex

Mesothelioma killed Steve's father seven years ago.

"I think it is pretty certain we were exposed at the same time."

Exposure to asbestos is linked to the cancer

"I only worked with him for brief periods, but that could be enough.

The only other thing was that we did live in a house made of asbestos, now whether he cut it or anything I don't know.

"If people disturb a wall and you happen to get in the way of the fibre basically you can get the disease, but it would be one or the other and basically I thought it was the building work.

"He did not know I had got it, but when he was on his death bed in the hospice I asked him where he got it and he thought it was when he was working, but he did not know where and then.

"But he turned to me and said 'maybe you too' and a shudder went down my spine.

"I came out in cold sweats that I might have the same thing."

But it was not until Steve retired in 2005 that he started to feel ill.

Initially he and his doctors thought it could be angina.

"While running I started to feel - not breathlessness, but discomfort in the lung and stomach.

"I went to my GP who asked me how much I ran. When I told him it was 10 miles or more he said it could not be my lungs."

Steve had a barrage of inconclusive tests until an ultrasound revealed a build-up of fluid around his lungs. He then had an X-ray and a biopsy which led to his eventual diagnosis.

He says he will keep running as long as he can now because raising money for others had become his therapy and goal.

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