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Rick Shapiro
Rick Shapiro
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Attorney Confessions: Things I Never Knew About Preventable Cancer Cases

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As a personal injury lawyer practicing in Virginia (VA), I was actually handling a couple of lung cancer cases for clients when tragedy struck close to home. Although I handled cancer-related cases before, and conducted depositions of doctors and witnesses, there was a whole boatload of stuff I didn't know. Below are some examples:

  • The devastating psychological impact of having a family member close to you told that they have cancer that is Stage IV, and the type of therapies that the oncology doctor wants to do.
  • Getting the folder from the oncologist, taking it home, and studying all the warning sheets about the devestating complications that can occur from chemotherapy or from radiation. These include fatigue, nausea, appetite loss, loss of sexual desire, etc.
  • What it's like for your spouse, sister or mother to get a color brochure showing all the different kinds of available wigs and head coverings one can buy once a woman's hair falls out, which is almost inevitable after chemotherapy.
  • Going to a chemotherapy room where a bunch of other cancer patients are trying to be optimistic reading or listening to music sitting in easy chairs, with IV poles beside them, while receiving toxic chemotherapy drugs for hours on end.
  • Interacting with amazing chemotherapy nurses who have amazingly positive attitudes when surrounded by chemo patients every day, who always look on the bright side and tell the patients that they're doing great and are going to come through it all fine.
  • Seeing your loved one deal with lumps of hair collecting in the bottom of a shower as it rapidly falls after multiple chemo sessions, just like leaves fall in autumn, and dishing the clumps into the bathroom trashcan.
  • Helping a spouse or family member out of their bed when they are weak as a kitten, or nauseous, following multiple chemotherapy sessions, but driving them to the follow-up appointment at the oncology office where they wear a brave face.
  • Dealing with clients who, despite terrible odds, keep a positive mental attitude in the face of knowing that their days may be very short.

I am especially proud to represent cancer victims who face the day with a positive attitude and don't complain. I don’t think I could do that. But when the topic does come around to whether their cancer was preventable, and whether they blame their employer for poisoning them with toxic chemicals and fibers that developed their cancer, I listen. I have represented many railroad industry workers who have been exposed to carcinogens, and decades later contracted cancers—the preventable kinds. I don't think anything could be more infuriating to endure. Its toxic russian roulette, and has stricken engineers, conductors, every craft of railroad worker as well as others who were exposed to even fleeting asbestos or toxic carcinogenic exposures.

In my job as a personal injury attorney, I am grateful for the ability to represent a cancer victim who has a solid argument that but for their employer's conscious disregard for the worker's safety, the worker believes they would not have contracted cancer at all.

Imagine that: some cancers, as horrible as they are, we know are totally preventable with workplace safeguards. Example: asbestos cancers like mesothelioma or lung cancer. Another example: cancers caused by known carcinogens, or by radioactive materials. Particularly, where an employer knowingly has workers regularly working around carcinogens, why wouldn’t the employer provide the best available protection, training and education? That is where we can really make a difference—leveling the playing field so a jury can decide if that is really a safe workplace in the United States or not.

About the Editors: Our railroad worker injury law firm has offices in Virginia (VA) and North Carolina (NC). The attorneys publish and edit articles on three Legal Examiner sites for the geographic areas of Virginia Beach, Norfolk and Northeast North Carolina as a pro bono service to the general public.