Retired Worcester, Mass., Local 96 member Paul Pratt attends Massachusetts General Hospital’s gala in May. He was one of the honorees at the event.
Photo courtesy Massachusetts General Hospital.  

In the midst of his own battle with cancer, retired Worcester Local 96 member Paul Pratt is doing his part to combat the disease for others like him.

Diagnosed with asbestos-related peritoneal mesothelioma in 2011, Pratt and his doctors have been waging war against the disease. His condition, a form of mesothelioma that occurs in the lining of the abdominal cavity, has required three major surgeries, multiple rounds of chemotherapy and endless doctor visits.

But after receiving a legal settlement related to his exposure to asbestos over the course of a 30-year electrical career, Pratt, 56, chose to donate a portion of it to cancer research.

“It took eight long months for doctors to diagnose me,” Pratt said. “No one believed me. One doctor said I was nuts. So when the doctors at Mass General finally figured it out, I promised myself that if I ever got any money, I’d give part of it back.”

He did just that starting in 2014, donating multiple times over the next few years to the research efforts of his surgeon, James Cusack, and his oncologist, Andrew Zhu. Because of the terms of the legal settlement, he’s not allowed to discuss specific dollar figures.

In June, Pratt was honored by Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center as one of 100 individuals or groups whose commitment to the fight against cancer inspired others to take action.

“A lot of people are distraught when they get a cancer diagnosis,” Pratt said. “For me, it was more a sense of relief at finally knowing what was going on and being able to start working toward getting better.”

Getting better has been a long road that’s not over. During his first surgery in 2011, Cusack removed Pratt’s gallbladder, worked to remove cancerous tissue from the abdominal cavity lining and treated the area with a heated chemotherapy called HIPEC. The effort led to four and a half years of improved health.

But last year Cusack had to repeat the procedure, and in July he required another similar surgery. Pratt underwent six months of chemotherapy in the interim, and he’s currently working to get himself into any of a number of medical trials that might accelerate his recovery.

“The cancer is always there,” Pratt said. “It doesn’t leave you, but I hope that by supporting the research of smart people like Dr. Cusack and Dr. Zhu, I can help others in the future who are going through the same thing.”

While Pratt is prohibited from talking about his specific exposure to asbestos, it’s well-established that many jobs performed by IBEW members face substantial risks. Construction sites, power plants, shipyards and other industrial settings are among the first places cited by experts as running high risks for asbestos-related illness, and members are encouraged to use caution and personal protective equipment when there is a chance of inhaling airborne particulate.

But even being careful, there are still risks, and Pratt encourages anyone dealing with a mesothelioma diagnosis to seek the advice of an established lawyer. He also encourages others to support the ongoing efforts to understand and treat the deadly disease.

Local 96 Business Manager Tommy Maloney says Pratt’s personal commitment to cancer research speaks volumes about IBEW members in general. “Being a union member means we look out for one another, and Paul is living that out even with all he’s going through. It’s an inspiring thing he’s done, and I’m glad he’s being recognized for it.”

For Pratt, it’s about finding a cure. “Things are changing so fast right now, and every year is bringing new treatments, new medical trials, new hope. We need to make sure these doctors have the resources they need to keep doing their important work.”