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Michael’s Story

Michael contacted the fund in February 2009. He was 24 and desperately ill with bowel cancer. This came completely out of the blue, considering Michael was an extremely fit and healthy young man. The oncologist recommended the drug Avastin as the best possible treatment for him.

The local PCT decided not to fund this, although the panel of Non Medical directors decided they would grant the funding for this treatment for Michael.

Kate Spall managed to overturn this decision in 10 days.

Since Michael received Avastin, he has been travelling and enjoying his life by skydiving in Spain.

“It was a real pleasure to be part of Michael’s recovery.”

Personal Statement

Born in Bath, I had an excellent upbringing, taking advantage of every sporting, academic and social opportunity. My reports were rarely outside the top five percent and I was considered academically gifted.

I swam, winning the school Victor Lodorum at the age of thirteen. I was a faithful member of the local surf lifesaving club where I was involved in multiple first aid and rescue situations. Later, I discovered the joy of distance running and after competing in cross country and athletics at school, decided to coalesce my love of swimming and running and enter a triathlon. I immediately
took to the sport, dedicating up to five hours a day to training during school holidays and waking before five every weekday morning to be picked up by my swimming coach. In the last few years of
school, I trained and raced relentlessly, twice competing at national championships.

After leaving school, I moved to London where I found work as a plumber’s mate on the Citibank building in Canary Wharf. This was followed by a further year and a half of various construction work. Subsequently, I worked in arbouricultural services and landscape gardening. During the many hours spent shuttling around London on my way to and from work, I read various books and developed a particular interest in physics. Keen to cultivate that interest, I enrolled on a two-evening- a-week physics and mathematics course at Birkbeck College. The Certificate in Life Sciences course constituted the equivalent to A levels and fulfilled the entry requirements for a university degree. So, although it had never been my intention to take my studies to degree level, when the opportunity to apply presented itself, I grabbed it with both hands. I secured offers from Bristol, Exeter, Swansea and Bath Universities, settling (without having to give it much thought), on Bath.

In late 2002, I returned to Bath to prepare for university and undertake a long-term dream. While working as a carer in a retirement home, I began to build up my weekly swimming, running and cycling mileage. The long hours culminated in the fantastic realisation of my ambition to compete in the gruelling UK Half-Ironman Triathlon Championships in September. With another two years left in my age group, I managed 8th of about 65. I can say, without a shadow of a doubt, that competing in that race was the most exhilarating and joyful experience of my life, due probably in part to the long-term dedication it had taken to reach that point.

The attainment of a B.Sc.(hons) Physics degree is a source of great pride when I consider the countless hours of intense focus required to achieve it and supporting myself through hard removal work. My studies opened my eyes to the scale, incredible beauty and boundless practical application of physics. These are facets I am very keen to pass on to the younger generation, particularly at a time when physics is at its most exciting but the number of students choosing physics as a school subject is low.

Following my graduation, I moved to Cape Town in South Africa, working as a maths and physics tutor initially. This was a chance to try and impart some of my enthusiasm for physics and I gained a lot of insight working with my students. Now that I am beginning to recover some strength, I am starting to advertise my skills as a mathematics and physics tutor. Tutoring five students, between chemotherapy sessions, would help those students achieve higher exam results, keep my physics ability honed and allow me to feel as if I am making some contribution to society again after a frustrating inability over the last five months.

In 2002, I qualified as a personal trainer and in Cape Town, I had the chance to put my experience into practice as a travelling trainer. While not providing the intellectual stimulation I had enjoyed during my time at university, I found helping people improve their health and self-image to be rewarding in its own right. It also allowed me to indulge in my own training in a beautiful
environment. Occasionally I tested myself with a run to the summit of Table Mountain and down again. It feels so far away now but it was less than two years ago. It is my fervent desire to return to my former fitness and compete in endurance events. There are some wonderful cancer charities, doing very worthwhile work and helping a lot of people and I would like race to raise funds for those causes.

Before returning to England I took advantage of a short-term opportunity working in a company supplying renewable energy components. This was an area I had been interested in since shortly after starting university and I learned a lot during my time there.

Back in England, I moved to Brighton to take up a place on a Masters degree in Cosmology at the University of Sussex. Cosmology and particle physics had for a long time been the particular areas of physics that most appealed to me and I took full advantage of the opportunity to learn as much as possible while still balancing my fitness and social life. My thesis involved the computer simulation of cosmic strings, theoretical bands of intense energy, the length of the universe, supposedly left as
a relic of the Big Bang.

I completed my studies with little time to spare. Less than six weeks after finishing the degree, on October 13th, I was admitted to the Royal United Hospital with severe abdominal pain. After a week of testing, I was scheduled for an emergency operation to remove a large tumour from my large intestine. Eight days later, on the 30th of October, I was informed of my cancer diagnosis. It was made plain that I would not recover from this illness, the cancer had already spread to my liver and peritoneum. The question, “What are the chances of survival?” was met with, “Miracles do happen.”.

Immediately following this diagnosis, bowel cancer nurse specialist, Siobhan John, stressed the vital importance of obtaining Avastin. She made it clear that with such a diminished prospective lifespan, Avastin would add at least a few precious months. I grasped this information like a drowning sailor would grab a lifeline.

Now that I have had the time, between recovering from surgery and undergoing chemotherapy, to bring my abilities and goals into sharper resolution, I have found a method of combining my skills to greatest effect. To this end I have spent much time studying house building, with particular regard to straw bale building. My experience in construction, landscape gardening, tree-surgery, the renewable energy sector and physics lends itself well to the design and construction of sustainable straw bale homes. It is my intention to, with an architect friend, design and build at least one low cost carbon-neutral home a year.

At the same time, I have been studying horticulture with the intention of one day growing organic cut flowers, fruit and vegetables for sale at farmers’ markets.

Now able to eat again, the enjoyment I gain through cooking nutritious and tasty food has been rejuvenated. With wholesome, healthy eating and yoga, I am starting out on the long road to recovering my former fitness and achieving my ultimate dream of completing a full distance Ironman triathlon, hopefully raising some funds for cancer charities along the way.

There are still a myriad of goals and aspirations I wish to fulfill. A limited timespan brings the priorities into sharper relief though and between Ironman racing for charity, building sustainable homes and trying to promote an appreciation of physics in my tutees, I believe I still have a valuable contribution to make to my community.

With a 0.002% probability of bowel cancer occurrence in men of my age, it is not surprising that the sudden diagnosis took me by complete surprise. The last thing I expected at the age of twenty-seven was to be struck down with such a disease. I have had to deal with many crushing blows throughout this journey and have dealt with them all quietly and without fuss; to know that a group of people have sat in a room and decided I am not worth a chance is perhaps one of the hardest to bear. There are many patients who live far longer than a few months with Avastin and I believe I, and those who love me, have a right to be given that chance.

Contact Kate

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