Dan Wiggins

Dan was first diagnosed with a grade 2 brain tumour after a grand mal seizure in April 2006 when he was 30.  He received a variety of treatments including a craniotomy in 2009 to de-bulk the tumour.  At that time he found out that the tumour had been re-classified as a grade 3 or 4 and his doctors recommended he should start to receive regular chemotherapy and radiotherapy at Charing Cross Hospital.  Dan was married to Lucy and was a fundraiser for and a trustee of BTRC.

Here is Dan’s story as told by his wife Lucy…

“Dan wanted to do something that would raise money for research while at the same time keeping him fit and healthy so he could remain positive.”

Dan first started to experience symptoms of a brain tumour around Christmas 2005.  On a couple of occasions he found himself unable to speak for 30 seconds or even a minute.  Sometimes he felt a bit wobbly; that spinning sort of feeling you can get when you have had too much to drink!  At the time we did not think anything of it.

Then in April 2006, Dan had a grand mal seizure and was rushed straight to Chichester hospital.  All he could remember was being in the middle of a conversation and not being able to get his words out.  When he came round he was quite confused and had no idea what time of day it was.

The next day he went to see his GP who referred him to a neurologist.  He wondered whether he had epilepsy and felt frustrated to think he might not be able to drive.  Not only did Dan love driving, but as a commercial director for an importing business, his car was crucial to his life and work.  It also gave him a sense of independence which he wasn’t sure how he would manage without.

Dan booked an MRI scan for 7.30 in the morning so that, as he put it: “It didn’t disrupt my working day.”  Little did he know then how much his life and work would ultimately be disrupted.

Two hours later at 9.30am, the neurologist rang Dan at work and asked him to return the very same day at 6.30pm to meet a Mr Mendoza.  Dan assumed that he was going to meet someone who had taken the scan, not a doctor, because he was referred to as Mr Mendoza.  He had no idea at that time that Mr Mendoza was a brain-surgeon and that surgeons are traditionally not called Doctor.  If he had known that he was a brain surgeon, it would have been a very stressful day; instead he found it hard to concentrate, but was basically fine.

Dan met Mr Mendoza who was surprised that he had not been told what was going on, perhaps because of the speed of the process – just 11 hours had passed since his scan.  He explained that Dan had a grade 2 astrocytoma brain tumour, which could not be removed by surgery.  It was in the left side of his brain near the speech area, which accounted for the problems with his speech.

A biopsy was organised for the following week, the first week of May, which confirmed that the tumour was in fact grade 2 and that it would not be possible to remove it by a physical operation – it was a crab-like tumour with many legs.  At that point Dan was put on medication to control the seizures.

He continued to work as a director of a multi-million pound fresh produce import business although he was unable to drive for a year.  His company was fantastic and gave him a driver who became a real friend, and drove at our wedding the following year.

In 2007 Dan was very relieved to get his licence back.

However, by late 2008 Dan was starting to lose his speech again and having a lot of headaches.  It started affecting his work and sometimes when he spoke it came out as ‘gobbledegook’.  He found he started to have some serious speech arrests with some of his customer base, who did not understand what was happening.  On the other hand, many of his existing customers were amazing and really understanding.

At the end of 2008 Dan had another grand mal seizure and was again unable to drive.

In the spring of 2009 he was admitted to Charing Cross hospital for an operation to de-bulk the tumour and a further biopsy.  By this stage the tumour was re-classified as a grade 3 or 4 and his doctor recommended that he have radiotherapy and chemotherapy treatment.

By late 2009 we moved to Hersham in Surrey which made it easier for me to commute to work and also gave Dan access to the train network to get into Charing Cross for treatment.  By this time, Dan had finished working in fresh produce imports due to his illness and started his own business known as ‘Handy Man Dan’ to occupy his time and give him a sense of purpose.

He started on a course of chemotherapy which he took orally and carried on with life as if nothing was going on, saying the side effects were nothing to complain about.  His mother, who had been a nurse for more than forty years, recommended he keep fit in order to help fight the tumour and to remain positive.  Since he was not allowed to drive, when he was on his own, where possible he cycled everywhere or used the train network.

Alarmed at how shockingly underfunded research into brain tumours is, Dan spoke to Dr Mark Glaser, head of neurology at Charing Cross Hospital, who put him in touch with the charity Brain Tumour Research Campaign (BTRC), a member charity of Brain Tumour Research.   Dan started fundraising for BTRC, first with a bike ride around Richmond Park, starting and finishing at Charing Cross Hospital and then in 2010 he organised and led a team of cyclists the 900 miles from John O’Groats to Lands’ End.  Among the cyclists were Dan’s mother, Ros and my brother, Ben with key support provided by Dan’s Dad, Rob.  Dan was very fit and very rightly, very proud and even more so when the final total for the fundraising came in at an awe-inspiring £60,000.

That same year, Dan was at Speaker’s House, at the Houses of Parliament, lobbying for government support and also speaking on BBC Radio 4 and Radio 2.

By this time he was really missing work and so, as ever, he did something about it.  Using his bike to get around, he started doing handyman and gardening jobs for local residents.  It was about keeping himself active, his mind busy and being outdoors, which he loved.  Dan also decided to take a sailing instructor’s course and soon started teaching sailing at Queen Mary Sailing Club, Queen Mary reservoir near Ashford, Middlesex.  In 2011, he won the Instructor of the Year award.

In 2011, Dan was proud to be asked to become a trustee of BTRC.  Also that year, Sydney the dog arrived and Dan was determined for him to be a well-behaved terrier.  Many hours of coaching passed and many hours of removing hedgehogs from the garden in the middle of the night to stop the barking followed!  Sydney was one challenge than Dan referred to as ‘work in progress’.

Dan was by now working at Herbfresh – my father’s family business – and he was excited to be back in the buzz of fresh produce.  He was very good at his job and loved it.

Meanwhile his list of responsibilities were growing; he was the best godfather.   He never forgot a single special occasion, always sent a postcard from his holidays and made every visit, at home or away, exciting fun and memorable.  Like all of us, Dan’s godchildren understood, even at their young ages, what a special person he was.

Despite his health set-backs along the way, with the love and support of so many family members and friends, Dan’s determination and inspiration never faltered.  He continued to enjoy holidays which usually revolved around sailing in warm and not so warm climes, as well as skiing – mainly in les Arcs and Val Thorens.

But in Feburary 2015, Dan’s tumour began to stir again and he underwent major surgery.  He made no fuss and demanded no sympathy, but this operation was a big one.  Yet with the support of his parents, in-laws, other family and friends and me, his road to recovery was quicker and better than expected.

Life was getting back to normal as far as Dan was concerned.  Summer arrived and the barbecues, fancy dress parties and entertaining were in full swing again, along with Rugby World Cup fixtures and holiday plans.  Dan was back to living life to the full and counting down the time to getting his driving licence back.

Then in early September 2015, Dan was doing what he loved best – sailing.  He was spotted in the water beside his Laser shortly before racing started at Queen Mary Sailing Club and was given CPR before being taken to hospital.   Dan remained in intensive care but sadly we lost him a few days later on 5th September, aged just 39.

Dan never allowed himself to be defined by his brain tumour, yet he was an active campaigner for research to get closer to finding a cure, raising well over £100,000 for Brain Tumour Research Campaign.

Dan lived life to the full, touched so many people’s hearts and was a real inspiration to everyone he came across.  He was loved by so many people, including my Dad, John Emmett, who declared: “Dan was a wonderful son-in-law, one of life’s good guys.”

When I lost Dan, I not only lost my husband, but also my soul-mate and best friend.  Life will never be the same without him.

Lucy Wiggins – January 2016