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Cancer triumph turns to heartbreak for former Wittenoom resident

“Wittenoom.”

That was the one word uttered in a shaken disbelief by Helen Cheeseman in January as her oncologist held an x-ray showing a shadow on her lung.

It had been 50 years since a young Ms Cheeseman left the condemned Pilbara asbestos town. She knew the risks but thought she was one of the lucky ones.

Then, in December, Wittenoom caught up with her.

A young Helen Cheeseman, centre, places with two friends in asbestos tailings in Wittenoom.A young Helen Cheeseman, centre, places with two friends in asbestos tailings in Wittenoom.
Camera IconA young Helen Cheeseman, centre, places with two friends in asbestos tailings in Wittenoom.

“By the time I got into my 60’s if I ever did occasionally think back on it I still did not consider it until the oncologist asked me the question, ‘have you had connection with asbestos’,” she said.

“It was totally unrelated to the breast cancer I had just beaten but I was getting slight palpitations and my GP, being the cautious old guy he is, said let’s just get this checked.

“I had a proper scan with dye in it and the same morning they came straight back to me and said they had found a lesion on my lung.”

A young Helen Cheeseman dressed up for the Wittenoom Races. The racetrack was laden with asbestos tailings, which would be kicked up as horses raced by.A young Helen Cheeseman dressed up for the Wittenoom Races. The racetrack was laden with asbestos tailings, which would be kicked up as horses raced by.
Camera IconA young Helen Cheeseman dressed up for the Wittenoom Races. The racetrack was laden with asbestos tailings, which would be kicked up as horses raced by.

Ms Cheeseman was diagnosed with mesothelioma. It is likely she has no more than two years to live.

“It is still hard for me to believe I am supposed to die soon and I refuse to believe that,” she said.

“I am kind of angry at the whole thing saying ‘f*** no, who tells me I am going to die’.

“Even having a sensible conversation with the doctor now I start crying which is pretty tough.

Helen Cheeseman with her mother Ena Robertson in Wittenoom.Helen Cheeseman with her mother Ena Robertson in Wittenoom.
Camera IconHelen Cheeseman with her mother Ena Robertson in Wittenoom.Picture: Tom Zaunmayr.

“I am still young at heart, I still want to do stuff.”

Ms Cheeseman urged anyone considering a trip to Wittenoom to think about their friends and family before making such a “stupid” decision.

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