Nine years ago, I made my first and previously only contribution to the Gazette. As an ambitious trainee with my former firm, Betesh, I had a letter published in which I bemoaned the absence of an adequate forum or mechanism for the assessment of costs in cases settled pre-issue. The letter prompted some healthy debate and I would like to think my contribution went some way to influencing the relevant committee to introduce what is now commonly known as part 8 costs proceedings. Three years after that, though, my life changed completely.
I am now a partner at Pannone in Manchester. The personal injury department in which I work is consistently voted one of the best in the country. But I’m not writing this piece to sing the praises of Pannone; for the past six years, I have been fighting cancer. I have probably had the disease for longer, but it was not until July 2003 that I received the diagnosis. I was 28 years old.
I had noticed a painless lump on one of my ribs in or around 2001. I eventually went to my GP, returning when the lump didn’t later recede. X-rays, CT and bone scans followed, and in July 2003 I went under the knife to have 11 centimetres of one of my ribs removed. The sample was sent for analysis. Two weeks later, I received the news that it was cancerous. The precise diagnosis was chondrosarcoma, a rare cancer of the cartilage. I was told that it did not respond to chemotherapy or radiotherapy. As with several cancers, the policy was watch and wait and hope it didn’t return.
Fast forward to the present day and I’m sitting at home recovering from my latest operation. This involved the removal of some suspicious tissue from my left lung and the removal of three ribs. This was my second surgery in six weeks, having sacrificed the lower lobe of my right lung in an earlier operation in July.
As you can probably tell, the cancer returned and had spread to my lungs. In total, I have had eight operations over the past six years, plus two procedures which wouldn’t necessarily be classified as surgery. This latter type of procedure – radiofrequency ablation – involved the insertion of a fine needle into the lungs to destroy tumours, using the heat produced by radio waves. The procedure is still a relatively novel treatment, but studies into its effectiveness look promising. It is not always suitable, however, and the treatment of choice for removal of secondary chondrosarcoma tumours in the lung remains surgical removal via open thoracotomy.
I may sound rather matter of fact about this but the reality is that despite the surgery I feel fine. Yes I have pain, but that can be controlled by painkillers. The irony is that the pain and discomfort that I have suffered over the years has not been from the cancer itself but from the surgery to remove it. Perhaps I have become battle-hardened, and know what to expect and how best to expedite my recovery. But perhaps this is also due to the tremendous support I have been given by my wife and family, my friends, and also my colleagues at work.
Don’t get me wrong – lying in a hospital bed with chest drains and a catheter coming out of me has sometimes made me wonder how much more I can take. My resolve is seriously tested. I do wonder whether I am chasing a dream: whether the reality is that the cancer will not be able to be removed surgically. But then I see my wife and two young kids and tell myself that I have to beat this. If it comes back, have it removed. Mop up the last traces until it is all gone. I have to deal with this problem. There is nothing to be gained by regret and recriminations. I can’t change what has happened; however, I can change what will happen.
My wife has been a tremendous source of inspiration over the past few years. On countless occasions, she has lifted me from the depths of despair with simple but effective words of encouragement. I cannot express the amount of respect I have for her. We began married life together in November 2006, having dated for 18 months, and she has taken all my problems in her stride. Without her, I dread to think how I would have coped.
How have I continued to develop as a lawyer despite this huge burden in the background? I consider myself extremely fortunate in that I obtain great satisfaction from my work. I work with a fantastic bunch of people and the support that I have been given by colleagues and management has been priceless. Work gives me an opportunity to keep my mind busy, not to dwell on other matters, and to keep negative thoughts at bay. So, ironically, my diagnosis had given me a reason to focus on other things, and work in particular. I just knuckled down, got through my cases, gained more recognition and was eventually awarded partnership in May 2006.
I have been described as fiercely private in the past – historically, I have been a somewhat quiet and reserved character. However, after all these years of being private I have decided to document my journey, because I have come to realise that there are unlimited resources of support and advice out there that I can tap into. It cannot help bottling things up. The old adage of ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ is true.
There is also another reason, of course – straight boredom. On the many occasions I have been laid up at home recuperating I don’t know what I have found more painful, the post-surgical discomfort or the drivel that is daytime TV. I have found that I need to keep my brain active, and penning my story certainly does that. In the past, I have been itching to get back to work, a testament to the enjoyment I derive from my work and the people I work with. I was given sensible advice to return only once fully recovered, but nowadays we all have our BlackBerrys and I confess that I find it simply impossible to resist having a peek to see what is going on at work. I have already been rebuked on several occasions in the last week and told to ‘turn the damn thing off!’ I did manage to sneak a few files out, though, so that I can prepare some costs schedules from home. So you can see I have retained my keen interest in costs and costs law.
Statistically, sadly, it is inevitable that there are many other lawyers reading this who are working despite having been diagnosed with cancer. I hope my story illustrates that you are not alone, and that it is possible to forge a successful career notwithstanding considerable adversity, provided the support network is there.
As previously mentioned, I have been fortunate that my employers have given me fantastic support over the years since my diagnosis. I don’t suppose it could have been easy for them to know precisely how to deal with what is a very sensitive and emotional situation. Perhaps other employers could have got it wrong, but mine have got it right.
They have left me to deal with things at my own pace. They have ensured that I focus entirely on my health and do not worry about work at all. Before I was due to leave for any period of absence, arrangements were made for my work to be covered by a colleague. This meant that my caseload ticked over while I was away and I didn’t have to worry about missing critical dates. In my case, I was happy with some flowers and periodic calls from the office to see how I was getting on. I did not want to be swamped with calls or emails, although at the same time I wanted to be kept in the loop and still feel part of the operation (no pun intended).
My advice, therefore, for any employer faced with a similar scenario is that it is absolutely imperative that you know your employee. Know how much contact they will want, and know what their concerns would be facing a long-term absence. In my case, it was vital that I was absolutely comfortable that my clients would in no way be compromised by my absence.
Most Wednesdays I attend the Bury Cancer Support Centre. The centre, which is run entirely on donations, offers complementary therapy, counselling and information for cancer patients and their carers. I was initially hesitant in attending, as I feared what I would find. But my concerns were totally allayed as I found the centre a hub of activity and positivity. Despite the welcome distraction work provides, from a personal perspective the centre has provided an invaluable kind of oasis away from everything, where I can switch off and receive some complementary therapy such as reflexology. Cancer Research UK, for example, gets massive promotion, and rightly so, but it is important that places like the Bury centre that rely exclusively on public generosity are not forgotten.
So there we have it. That’s my (significantly abridged) journey to the day you’re reading this. All visible evidence of cancer has been removed. I face a regime of quarterly CT scans to monitor the situation. Hopefully, I can continue to keep the monster at bay.
I will conclude with an analogy of sorts taken from my daily work. I liken my situation to a rather complex employer’s liability case. The other side deny liability, and over the years, despite numerous attempts to convince them to concede, they continue to repudiate. I consider the case has merits and that, ultimately, probably on the eve of trial, liability will be conceded or, at the very least, will be established before a judge.
Will I win my case? I firmly believe I will.
Daniel Radiven is a partner in the personal injury department at Pannone in Manchester
If you would like to make a donation to the Bury Cancer Support Centre, or require further information, please visit www.bury-csc.org.uk