Keith VanEyk thought it was just a tight muscle when he felt a small pinch on his torso’s right side a year ago.
Although the Sooke man didn’t have any trouble breathing or coughing fits, he mentioned it to his doctor in passing in December 2019. The months that flew by amid the pandemic were sporadically interrupted by CT scans, bloodwork and a spinal tap – all the while, his pinch growing slightly more painful.
“It never felt like a knife or a stabbing pain at all,” VanEyk said. “But as the pain got worse, I started to get more worried about it.”
Fast forward to a week before Christmas this year, VanEyk was told the news he never expected to hear in his lifetime.
He was diagnosed with mesothelioma, rare cancer caused by asbestos. As an auto-body mechanic who has spent more than 40 years in the industry, he was likely exposed to asbestos during frequent brake and clutch repair work.
Auto-mechanics are among the highest risk for mesothelioma, with construction, shipyard and power plant workers also on the list. When asbestos is inhaled, the body has a hard time getting rid of the fibres. The fibres get stuck in tissues and can cause lung cancer.
According to the Canadian Cancer Society, mesothelioma develops 15 to 40 years after exposure, as there aren’t many symptoms that show quickly. About 1.6 of every 100,000 Canadians are diagnosed every year with mesothelioma. Asbestos exposure is the top cause of occupational death nationally.
As a man in his mid-50s, VanEyk’s doctor recommended he see a physician in Toronto specializing in thoracic surgery to remove his lung.
In mid-January, VanEyk will go under the knife in Toronto and will most likely have to stay in Ontario for a few months. He pointed out how grateful he is for finding out about his condition in time and the community that has supported him and his family through kind messages and generous donations.
Wendy Butterfield, a close friend of VanEyk and his wife, Cheryl, launched a GoFundMe page, raising more than $15,000.
“When I found out [about Keith], I felt so helpless like there was nothing I could do,” said Butterfield. “These two would give you their last dollar and wouldn’t ask for anything in return.”
VanEyk was laid off a week before his diagnosis. Cheryl put her work as an esthetician on pause as the couple deal with more tests and the logistics of getting surgery in Toronto.
Until then, VanEyk is optimistic about living life with one lung. He has good function in his remaining lung, doctors said.
“Let’s just say I’m not gonna be running a marathon anytime soon,” he chuckled.
Those interested in donating to VanEyk’s GoFundMe page can go online to http://bit.ly/KeithVanEyk.
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