The Boy Who Cried Wolf, is one of Aesop’s Fables derived the English idiom “to cry wolf”, defined as “to give a false alarm” in Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. The story basically concerns a shepherd boy who constantly deceives nearby villagers into thinking a wolf is attacking his flock.
When a wolf actually does appear, the boy calls for help. Used to deception, the villagers brush his claims off as another false alarm, and then the boy is eaten by the wolf.
Now, the basic message of this story is obviously not to lie, and shows the consequences for deceiving people over and over. But what if I twist it a little, and the situation becomes one between a doctor and a patient. Except this patient is no ordinary patient: they’re a past cancer patient, who survived Stage Two Nodular Sclerosing Hodgkin’s Disease (Hodgkin’s Lymphoma). This patient was diagnosed at 15 years old, went through 8 rounds of grueling chemotherapy, two and a half weeks of radiation therapy, and came out the other side with bruises, scars, depleted muscles, PTSD, an exhausted body and zero body hair.
Nonetheless, they were in remission. But every lump or bump sent their world into a spiral – fearful that the cancer had returned. Each time they hypothetically ‘cried wolf’, each scare turned out to be nothing, each dark lesion on a scan came back as benign. They almost felt stupid that they ran for the doctor’s office every time they had a cough, fearful it was a new tumour. Until one day, four years later, a lump popped up in their neck again. They went to the doctor, who felt it for only a second and assured them it was nothing. The doctor reminded them that “not every time you find a lump it is cancer.” Unsatisfied with the answer, the patient asked for a blood test and an ultrasound which came back as ‘nothing alarming.’
Five months later the patient knew the lump wasn’t going away and it wasn’t meant to be there, so they went back to a different doctor this time and demanded another test. In déjà vu style, they were sent for an ultrasound, then a biopsy. This time it came back as cancer. The same lump that five months ago was ‘nothing alarming’ was cancer.
This patient is me and this is not only my story but my warning. As I mentioned before, I have had cancer before. Quite an aggressive and quickly growing cancer that generally affects women aged between 15-25. You’d be surprised to hear this if you met me – I have 3 small, discreet scars, my hair has grown back, I’ve gained my fitness and my muscle back and I’ve overcome chemo brain (YES – it IS a real thing!) and am now studying a double bachelor degree. You’d also be surprised as to how many people are affected each and every day by cancer, no
matter who they are, celebrity or common every day person. No one is immune – and this is an assumption we all must overcome.
The Boy Who Cried Wolf is a great analogy because after you experience cancer you know what you’re in for, and your worst fear is for it to return. Every lump screams tumour, every bruise cries Leukaemia, every headache indicates brain cancer, and no matter how many times you tell yourself “it’s probably not” in the back of your mind you know it’s a 50/50 chance. Scanxiety is the anxiety you feel waiting for your scans to come back either PET positive (cancer) or NEG negative (you’re safe.) Five years is generally the ‘all clear’ and you can stop having so many check ups because if it was going to come back, it likely already would have.
The lump I found in my neck in November was cancer and if I had trusted what the doctor had told me initially, the tumour would have continued to grow and I would have been none the wiser until my face began to paralyze.
Agatha Christie once said “instinct is a marvelous thing. It can neither be explained nor ignored.” I trusted my gut instinct and I write this today from my hospital bed that I’ve been in for three days after my saliva gland, tumour and lymph nodes were removed.
It’s so incredibly easy for doctors to tell you something you’re worried about is “nothing” but at the end of the day you are the one responsible for your body, your health and your life.
If you find something unusual on yourself, book an appointment to see your GP, monitor it, chase it up and stay on top of the situation. You may even save your own life.