Eugene Finney, of Fitchburg, Mass., has always considered the ocean a big part of his life. But when a shark attack in early July led him to see a doctor, who then discovered Stage 1 cancer in his kidney, the body of water’s significance to Finney took on an even bigger meaning.
“The incident with the shark was a message from God, a message from someone,” Finney told the San Jose Mercury News.
The newspaper reported that Finney, 39, had been at Huntington Beach in Orange County, Calif., with his girlfriend and two children, his 6-year-old son, Turner, and his 10-year-old daughter, Temple, to visit his parents. While his girlfriend, Emeline McKeown, was on the beach with Turner, Finney was in the water with Temple, amid waves that soared 7 to 9 feet high. As he and Temple dove into a crest, Finney clutched his daughter tightly, protecting her from the strong current. As they plummeted 20 feet underwater, Finney felt a strong force pummel into his back.
Dizzy and dazed, Finney mustered up the energy to walk back to shore with Temple, who alerted her father to the long gash in his back that was bleeding. When he looked out into the water, he saw a pair of fins. Lifeguards began pulling people out of the water, the San Jose Muercury News reported.
When Finney returned to work in Massachussets at the Fitchburg Art Museum less than a week later, a coworker told him he didn’t look good and insisted him to go to the doctor.
Finney checked himself into St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Brighton, which is near McKeown’s Newton home, in case his condition was severe, he said.
Doctors at the hospital conducted an EKG, a chest X-ray and a CAT scan, and then confirmed that Finney’s pain was due to “interior bruising of the thoracic cavity, due to blunt-force drama,” the newspaper reported.
But amid their testing, doctors found something else: a walnut-size tumor in his kidney that indicated Stage 1 cancer. They told him it was genetic, and Finney inferred that he likely inherited the condition from his maternal grandmother, who died of stomach cancer.
"If they hadn't made this incidental find, I wouldn't have known until it was too late," he told the San Jose Mercury News. "I could have ended up with cancer metastasizing all over my stomach area, and you don't come back from that."
"It (the shark) could have bitten me, but it nudged me just enough,” Finney added.
Surgeons were able to salvage 80 percent of Finney’s kidney, removing 20 percent to eradicate the cancer. Finney won’t need chemotherapy or radiation— only another CAT scan in one year so doctors can make sure the cancer hasn’t come back. Now, he’s cancer-free.
“My father has always taught me that if you respect the ocean, it will take care of you," he told the newspaper of the incident. "I think this is that."