Cancer survivor, 24, reveals GP dismissed his night sweats, exhaustion and ‘lumpy neck’ for glandular fever

·6-min read
Callum Boyd lost his hair following six months of chemotherapy. (Supplied)

A cancer survivor has revealed how his GP repeatedly dismissed his tell-tale symptoms.

Callum Boyd noticed a swelling in his neck in December 2016 while in his final year at Durham University.

Dismissing it as just stress, the then 21-year-old soon developed night sweats, extreme fatigue and a “lumpy neck”.

Read more: BBC presenter with 'incurable cancer' is free of the disease

Despite alarming blood tests, his GP dismissed his symptoms as glandular fever and told him to rest.

Boyd’s sister, then a junior doctor, suspected something sinister and insisted he be seen by a specialist.

In April 2017, he was diagnosed with stage three Hodgkin lymphoma – tumours that develop in the lymphatic system – and began six months of chemotherapy.

Now in remission, 24-year-old Boyd is forced to self-isolate entirely amid the coronavirus outbreak.

‘I looked well so my GP thought it couldn’t be serious’

Boyd began to feel unwell while completing his French and History course.

“I was busy, a typical final-year student,” he told Yahoo UK.

When Boyd went home to Chester for the Christmas holidays, he noticed a swelling in his neck.

“I was always a bit run down at the end of term,” he said. “I had a cold and a sore throat so I wasn’t too concerned.”

By the end of January, back in Durham, things had taken a turn for the worse.

“I felt really really under the weather,” said Boyd.

“I had a high fever and felt absolutely exhausted.

“I noticed the lump again, it felt really sore and tender, and I noticed a few more swellings in my neck.

“Then I developed drenching night sweats. I would wake up in the night soaking wet, which is really unusual for me.”

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Boyd confided in his sister, who was training to be a doctor on an oncology ward.

“She said, ‘I’m actually really worried, you should get seen’,” said Boyd.

Unable to get a GP appointment for two weeks, the student went to an out of hours’ clinic.

“The doctor was equally concerned, but said the way the system worked was tests had to be done by my GP,” said Boyd.

Managing to see his GP sooner, blood tests came back as “really concerning”.

“My GP thought I looked relatively well so it couldn’t be that serious,” said Boyd.

“The doctor thought I was the right age for glandular fever.

“I was told to go and recover at home.”

After being urged to push for a diagnosis by his sister, Boyd spent the next few weeks “going back and forth” to the doctor’s surgery, “pestering the GP”.

Eventually his mother travelled to Durham to attend an appointment with him, telling the GP: “I’m not leaving this room until my son gets a referral”.

Boyd during his first round of treatment in April 2017. (Supplied)

Boyd saw a haematologist at a Chester hospital at the end of March.

After various blood tests, scans and a biopsy, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma.

Speaking of hearing the news, Boyd said: “You get to the point where cancer becomes the most likely answer.

“As you go down the tunnel of diagnoses in oncology and haematology departments, you know where it’s going.

“My haematologist had said, ‘It might be Hodgkin lymphoma. If it is I will come up with a treatment plan and treat you’.”

Around 2,100 new cases of Hodgkin lymphoma are diagnosed every year in the UK, with most in the 75-to-79 age group.

In the US, 8,480 people are expected to be told they have the disease in 2020.

Read more: The cancers on the rise - and the decline - in the UK

With the cancer having spread to his chest, abdomen and spleen, Boyd began a fortnightly regimen of chemotherapy.

“I felt rotten; really really tired,” he said.

“I had problems with nausea initially. I was told I was immunocompromised so I had a really high risk of infection just stepping out the door. I lost my hair.

“I had the full package of side effects.”

Boyd finished his chemotherapy in October. After a scan the following month, he was given the all-clear that December.

Throughout the ordeal, the student managed to keep up his studies and graduated with a 2.1 degree.

Moving home for treatment, however, took its toll.

“I was miles away from all my friends so socialising was off the cards,” said Boyd.

“Even colds could make me really unwell.

“I managed to keep in touch remotely. As I moved into 2018 my major priority was doing the normal things – going for dinner, going to birthday parties.”

‘Cancer doesn't stop for COVID’

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, Boyd is being forced to self-isolate again.

He makes up one of the 1.5 million vulnerable Britons who received a letter telling them to “self-shield”.

“It is very very precautionary,” he said.

“I imagine my blood count is always a little bit lower so I’m more vulnerable to infections.”

Boyd, who lived in London while working for the Wellcome Trust charity, has temporarily moved back in with his parents.

Having been through isolation before, he feels more “resilient” this time round.

“Everyone’s in the same boat at the moment,” said Boyd.

“One of the big challenges [of isolating for cancer treatment] is feeling you’re being left behind, which today is less of a thing.”

After everything he has been through, Boyd is speaking out to encourage others to “trust their body” if something seems off.

“You know your body better than anyone else,” he said. “You’ve got to persist [with the doctor] and trust your body.”

Boyd is also supporting the Teenage Cancer Trust’s #BestToCheck campaign.

“Protecting the NHS [amid the coronavirus outbreak] means being seen sooner rather than later,” he said.

“Even in my few months of delay in getting referred, my cancer had spread.

“COVID won’t disappear overnight, we’ve got to adapt longer term.

“Cancer doesn't stop for COVID.”

COVID-19 is the respiratory disease that can be triggered by the coronavirus.

Government officials have urged the public to continue using the NHS after a worrying rise in non-coronavirus related deaths.

“Every day around seven young people aged 13-to-24 are diagnosed with cancer in the UK,” said Dr Louise Soanes from the Teenage Cancer Trust.

“We know that across all age groups, cancer referrals have fallen by as much as 75% during the coronavirus pandemic, and with the anecdotal evidence we’ve gathered, we fear many 13-to-24 year olds will be deterred from contacting their GP, not wanting to add pressure to the health service.

“We know cancer can be harder to treat if it’s not diagnosed early, but young people can be slower to visit their GP with symptoms. It can also take longer for them to be referred to specialist.

“That’s why putting off an appointment will make things harder for the NHS in the long term.

“The health service is still very much open and wants to support you.”

Donate to the Teenage Cancer Trust here.

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