Cats Didn't Give Me Cancer


How being treated for an allergy to cats and persistence finally led to my diagnoses of Hodgkin's lymphoma.

"You are worrying entirely too much over this! The chances of this being anything serious are one in a million," the doctor told my mom in an irritated voice. He spoke almost as if he was being inconvenienced by my mother's constant concern about a huge lump on the side of my neck. After his remarks, he just stood there in silence looking at us with his frizzy eyebrows and that irritated look he seemed to carry around with him on a regular basis. My mom's final question to him was, "Well, what if Ryan is that 'one-in-a-million' child?"

I was five years old, so how do I remember this stuff? Well, I only remember bits and pieces, actually. Like the fact that it was always so cold in that place, and all of the toys in the waiting room were broken. I, of course, also can remember that this short little man, the doctor, wasn't ever nice. Yet, he was the local pediatrician who had gained the local reputation of being the best doctor in the area.

However, everything leading up to the diagnosis of my disease was a fiasco with this guy.

Throughout the many trips to the doctor, we were even sold the idea that I was just allergic to cats. Yes, cats were supposedly causing the lump on the right side of my neck, along with fatigue and a frequent low-grade fever.

At one point, I remember having to take some funny tasting medicine that was made a little more palatable by being sprinkled over cold apple sauce. But, no matter how much cold and bitter tasting apple sauce I ate, the lump on my neck remained. And the alleged cat allergy theory remained, but not for long. Because it was around this time that my parents became convinced that the issue was not an allergy of any kind. My mom remained persistent in trying to find out what was wrong. Because without a doubt, something was off. I mean, looking back at old photographs, it was so obvious, that lump. That big, swollen lump.

That Christmas, a family friend flew in from Puerto Rico. I remember him well. He had jet black hair and the smell of his cologne often entered the room before he did. He was a great guy, soft-spoken and very kind. And he always dressed sharply.

He wasn't a medical doctor but he had experience in the medical field as a physical therapist. He knew that what was going on in my neck wasn't associated with cats. This was the man that directed us elsewhere, to Atlanta. He was positive that what I had needed to be looked at soon, very soon.

It was in Atlanta that we would finally get the real diagnosis: Hodgkin's Lymphoma. It was a shocker, and the news came in right after Christmas. So not exactly the best timing. Without our family friend, there's no telling what might have happened. And without my mom, demanding to get to the bottom of things, it's just scary to think where things might have ended up.

This is a story of persistence - from a doctor that was persistent in trying to convince us that it was nothing serious, to the persistence of a mother who pushed her way through to find that my swollen lymph nodes were all the result of a disease that could have killed me.

If you ever get the feeling something's not right; if you ever feel like you need a second or third opinion, go for it. Be persistent. You could save a life—yours or the life of someone you love.

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Dr. Lauren Pinter-Brown