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Byline: Laura Coventry

DADDY'S girl Julie MacDougall was devastated when her father John died of a cancer caused by asbestos.

The Labour MP's illness was traced back 40 years to his days as a shipyard worker - when he was exposed to the deadly material.

By the time doctors realised John had mesothelioma - the "working man's cancer" - it was too late to save him and he passed away in August 2008, aged 60.

The Central Fife and Glenrothes MP's loss was felt at the highest levels of politics as Prime Minister Gordon Brown paid tribute to "a good personal friend" and "true servant of the people".

But, for Julie, 38, the loss was immense.

She said: "It was absolutely horrendous. My dad and I were extremely close. I was very much a daddy's girl. He was my best friend at the end of the day.

"His death was quite rapid in the end - I was at a meeting with him in his local office two weeks before he died. We didn't have any idea it was going to be as quick as it was.

"It still feels very raw nearly two years on. The worst thing in the world is going for a drive on a Sunday or going out for lunch and not being able to talk to that special person."

Now Julie, her mum Cathy, 60, and brother Scott, 40, have launched a charity in John's name - the John MacDougall Mesothelioma Trust.

The family, from Burntisland, spent pounds 1000 of their own money to start the charity, which aims to raise awareness of the incurable condition and help prevent other families enduring the trauma.

Julie said setting up the charity was her way of coping.

She added: "It's keeping me focused. Having watched someone suffer from mesothelioma, now I want to help other families not to go through that."

JOHN had been suffering breathlessness, heavy sweating and bloating when he collapsed in London in 2006 and was rushed to Guy's Hospital.

It took several months for doctors to work out the symptoms were caused by cancer of the mesothelium, a thin membrane that lines the chest and abdomen and surrounds vital organs.

When the former Fife Council leader was diagnosed, neither he nor his family knew how severe the illness could be.

Shipbuilders of John's generation used asbestos sheets before it was found to be dangerous.

When dust particles are breathed in, it can lead to mesothelioma, which can lie dormant in the lungs for decades. Being told her dad was battling a rare - and terminal - form of cancer hit Julie hard but John's own positivity eased her pain.

She said: "My dad's attitude was, 'There will be a cure that will come on the market.' He was very positive and never considered it terminal.

"He never took no for an answer and, although he knew he was extremely ill, he never accepted he was going to die and that it was a death sentence.

"He looked upon it as 'an illness and we will deal with it'."

Keen to improve his quality of life, John took part in a clinical trial of MARS - mesothelioma and radical surgery.

The major operation at Guys Hospital in March 2007 involved removing a lung and scraping the lining of the heart.

Julie hoped this would prolong John's his life.

She added: "We knew it wasn't a good prognosis but we thought, 'Take whatever's there.' "We were told that after the trial, you could survive for five to seven years with the condition and lead a normal life.

"We hoped that would work but, unfortunately, things took a turn for the worst."

John, who was a member of an asbestos parliamentary group, died at the Victoria Hospital in Kirkcaldy in August 2008.

But his memory lives on in the non-political charity JMMT. Its trustees include Labour MP Lindsay Roy, John's successor, and Liberal Democrat MP Menzies Campbell. Thsey will stage their first major fundraising event in August, to mark the second anniversary of John's death.

Julie, who is preserving her dad's legacy as a parliamentary assistant at his constituency office, hopes a cure for mesothelioma will be found in her lifetime.

SHE added: "Dad was not a materialistic person - he was always about helping people. So I am carrying on where he left off.

"There will be a lot of people diagnosed with this in the future but they won't know about it yet because it lies dormant.

"It's quite a young cancer, so there's not a lot of research or money going into it but they reckon in 10 years we will be a lot more familiar with it.

"I'd like to think he would be extremely happy and proud that we are doing this to pass on the knowledge we have got, little as it might be, to help other people going through what he went through."

For more information about mesothelioma and the John MacDougall Mesothelioma Trust visit

To make a donation visit


CLOSE FAMILY: Julie, pictured right, with her late dad John in his Westminster office. Above, with brother Scott, mum Cathy and John FITTING TRIBUTE: Cathy and Julie run charity in John's name
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Apr 12, 2010
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