“Shark attack saved my life” story exaggerated

There are so many unknowns and “ifs” in this story that it’s hard to know why it was news at all. Regardless, it is a case of coincidence in that he was prompted by a surprise incident to discover cancer very early. Good for him. But it’s not very accurate to bring sharks or outside forces into the equation.

Possible shark attack helps man discover cancerous tumor

Eugene Finney was injured when dealing with a large wave in the ocean with his child in Huntington Beach, CA. “I was hit in the back hard. Really hard. I’ve never been hit that hard in my life,” Finney said. On return to shore, he found a bleeding gash in his back.

Finney was left with a foot-long gash down his upper back. It caused significant bleeding. He went to one of the bathrooms on the beach to clean the saltwater out of the wound. When he returned to the beach his girlfriend and son both said they saw fins in the area where he had been struck, Finney said.

What caused the injury to Finney’s back isn’t clear to Lt. Claude Panis of the Huntington Beach Marine Safety Division. “There are a number of things that could have caused the injury: stingrays, debris, another swimmer or a surfboard,” he said. Finney did not seek out lifeguards after his injury and the incident was not reported.

So far we have an injury from an unknown cause. And, possibly unrelated sightings of “fins”, not sharks, though there are certainly sharks in this area. Fins, however, can also belong to dolphins or porpoises. Nothing is mentioned about finding debris or a surfboard that could have been the cause of the gash. The Washington Post article describes a scene where the beach has been cleared shortly after suggesting that they were sharks.

Next, Finney needs to head to the doctor because he is very sore from the incident and has some internal bruising. According to the story, the doctor who did EKG and chest X-rays (the Washington Post reports it was a CAT scan) also found a small tumor on Finney’s kidney. Later surgery to remove this showed it was cancerous and caught very early so his prognosis is good.

The doctor is quoted to say: “If he didn’t have the encounter with the shark, and given the fact that he’s a healthy 39-year-old man, the tumor probably would have grown over the next five, six years. The surgery could have been significantly less successful had the tumor not been located early.”

But we don’t know it was a shark. And we are not told if other symptoms would have shown up to indicate a problem with the kidney. So, this is correlation, not causation.

The Washington Post article is even more sensationalized:

And then he felt something else, something massive and menacing, slamming into his back. His vision glittered and went dark. Finney clutched his daughter closer and fought to swim up, too dazed to try and think about what had just happened. All he could do was make it back to shore.

Only the next day did he realize that a shark was probably responsible for his bloodied and bruised back.

This piece really layers on the drama where the others do not. The article adds quotes from Finney such as “a shark attack saved my life” and “I got a message from Mother Nature.” That’s a bit of an exaggeration. Circumstances happened so that Mr. Finney got a fortuitous head start on cancer treatment. But to talk about hugging a shark and being grateful to it are a bit much.

Some commenters have noted that the shark might have avoided him because they SENSED the cancer. Now we are really getting ridiculous. That’s just a tall tale but people grab onto it readily – suspecting animals know more than people about this sort of thing. While it’s not implausible he got hit by a shark, the media and audience has taken this thread too far into dramatic speculation and exaggeration.

News is more like a made-for-TV movie these days. It shouldn’t be. Just the facts, thanks.


  5 comments for ““Shark attack saved my life” story exaggerated

  1. October 10, 2015 at 8:55 PM

    I guess “Accident While Swimming Leads Man to Get Medical Help: Early Cancer Detected” wouldn’t make a very exciting news story. It might, however, have been used to educate people on the type of cancer the man had, just because information about cancer is always good to know.

    It wasn’t, though. Tsk.

  2. RandyRandy
    October 10, 2015 at 9:14 PM

    “Trauma-Induced Early Cancer Detection Saved My Life” may be a more accurate headline, but it’s not the sensational headline/clickbait our infotainment media desperately needs.

    Also – if he was hit and bleeding in the water, why weren’t more sharks drawn to him in a feeding frenzy? Or is that another shark myth? And would magical cancer-detecting sharks be put off by a little ol’ tumor? Inquiring minds want to know.

  3. SmOakley
    October 11, 2015 at 12:42 AM

    A comedian once pondered, so now I wonder, “Do you think sharks would be embarassed if they knew we could see their fins sticking out of the water?”

  4. Bonnie
    October 11, 2015 at 10:23 AM

    I knew a man who fell and broke his leg. When the docs were fixing the leg they discovered cancer. Unfortunately for him, it was too late. He died about a year later.

    A while back I read about a woman who fell and got a knitting needle through her heart. I don’t remember the details, but in fixing up her heart the docs discovered cancer or something.

    I wonder how often this happens?

  5. One Eyed Jack
    October 11, 2015 at 1:42 PM

    Walter: “There’s nothing here. There’s a fin here I think.”
    Captain: “We are traveling through a porpoise school. Don’t fear the porpoise.”
    Walter: “I don’t think it’s a porpoise.”
    Captain: “I’m telling you. It’s a porpoise. Befriend it. It will protect you from the sharks.”
    Mitty: “Okay… Come here, hey, hey”
    [A shark emerges from the water]
    Captain: “Okay, that’s a shark.”
    Walter: “That’s what I said!”
    Captain: “Stop befriending it! Kill it!”
    Walter: “It’s not a porpoise! It’s not a porpoise!”
    Captain: “Poke his eyes out.”

    -The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, 2013.

    For the record, Walter Mitty didn’t have cancer. Probably why the sharks attacked. /sarcasm

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