Inspirational message in sand

LOU Williams and Rohan Habner were brought together by a message in the sand.

Now, just days after their chance encounter, the pair are giving hope to other Tasmanians with asbestos- related diseases.

Ms Williams has endured a decade of chemotherapy and surgery following her 2003 diagnosis of mesothelioma - an internal cancer caused by inhaling asbestos particles.

The 58-year-old, who divides her time between Greens Beach and central Victoria, was exposed to asbestos throughout the 1970s when she worked in a Melbourne office riddled with the toxic material.

Despite her debilitating health issues, she has become a beacon of hope for many survivors through her work with the Bernie Banton Foundation, and appearances at various international health conferences.

Before this month she had not met Mr Habner, a 63-year-old plumber and gas fitter who was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma in December.

Born and raised in Launceston, Mr Habner said he was exposed to work site asbestos as a teenager and throughout his early 20s.

He said he had endured two rounds of chemotherapy since first noticing the pain in his side and his shortness of breath last year.

"When the doctor later broke the news to me, I just thought, `I've go no time for this. I've got too much living left to do'," he said.

"It's a pretty scary thing, and it's too early to tell how severe the growth is.

"But I'm working hard and I have a positive attitude about it all."

Earlier this month Ms Williams took a stroll on Greens Beach to contemplate her upcoming appearance at the 10th annual ADAO International Asbestos Awareness Conference in the United States.

She said she was in a pensive mood, so she picked up a stick and drew in the sand.

"I made a heart and wrote `Ban Asbestos in Unity' in the middle.

"There was another couple walking nearby, probably the only others on the beach at the time, and they came over to see what I'd written.

It turns out the couple were old acquaintances of Mr Habner - and though they had not seen him for some time - they had heard of his diagnosis.

Ms Williams and Mr Habner were soon introduced, and Mr Habner was patched into the growing network of Australians living with asbestos-related cancers.

"I've had a lot of wonderful family support since my diagnosis, and the support of friends has been absolutely amazing, but this community is a different kind of support," Mr Habner said.

"The people associated with Bernie Banton are people who have experienced the disease themselves, who have the knowledge of what you're going through.

"They all have stories of hope and courage that is incredibly inspiring."

Ms Williams said it was important people with asbestos-related diseases understood there was help and support out there for them.

"Doing this on your own, or with little help, can be incredibly difficult," she said.

Mr Habner agreed.

"I reached out to another man last week, who is alone and living with the disease," he said.

"Knowing how much it can affect your life, I will help anyone I can."

Email adruce@examiner.com.au

Twitter @AlexDruce1987

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