A barely-used Harley Davidson sits in Wade Dieno’s garage in Chitek Lake.
He bought it and some other property in Mexico as he retired after 35 years of work in northern mining, where he believes he breathed asbestos that led to the stage-three mesothelioma doctors diagnosed last November. They gave Dieno 12 to 14 months to live.
Now, the 70-year-old worries that the future he envisioned with his motorcycle, and a retirement partly spent in Mexico with his wife, is disappearing.
“Down the road somewhere I let my guard down and 20, 30 years later, I’m paying for it,” Dieno said.
Annette Goski, manager of prevention services for the Saskatchewan Workers Compensation Board (WCB), said asbestos is the leading work-related cause of death. In 2019, about 45 per cent of the 36 workplace fatalities in the province were asbestos-related. Six of the 22 workplace deaths recorded this year were were asbestos-related.
It’s a common material in buildings constructed before 1990, often found in vinyl flooring, popcorn ceilings and acoustic tiles.
As homeowners hire contractors for renovations this year, she’s urging them to test for asbestos or call an abatement company to remove and test for it. The WCB has an awareness campaign — “Asbestos kills. It’s best to test” — and resources, including an online course available on its website.
It’s personal for Dieno, who dropped out of high school in Grade 10 and began his career as a labourer at a potash mine. When he heard Saskatchewan’s northern mining industry was hiring in 1982, he decided to move there.
“I was a lot of years away from my home. You give it all up for your future. And you find out that when you retire you don’t have a future,” he said. “It’s the old sad story kind of thing.”
Dieno suspects he was exposed to asbestos at some point in his 35 years working in mining. He doesn’t know precisely when it happened, but he takes full responsibility for it, he said.
Dieno wasn’t aware of the exposure until a year and half ago, when doctors noticed a smear along his rib cage in a scan. Months later, it grew.
As the cancer spread from his lung to his ribcage, Dieno felt the future he helped build for his family slip away. Between chemo and treatment, “I can’t even begin to tell you the hell I’ve been through this,” he said.
He hopes his experience is a lesson for younger tradespeople to take precautions in the workplace. That includes using personal protective equipment, and asking questions if they’re unsure of anything.
“I can’t not try to get my little message out, and maybe somebody somewhere will pay attention and not end up like me. Because it takes it all,” he said.