The following is an excerpt from The Atlantic.
On September 22 of last year, Michel Goldman, a Belgian immunologist and one of Europe’s best-known champions of medical research, walked into a clinic near his house, rolled up his sleeve, and had a booster shot delivered to his arm. He knew he’d need it more than most.
Just a few weeks earlier, Michel, 67, had been to see his younger brother, Serge, the head of nuclear medicine at the hospital of the Université Libre de Bruxelles, where both men are professors. Michel was having night sweats, and he could feel swollen lymph nodes in his neck, so his brother brought him in for a full-body CT scan.
When the images came through to Serge’s computer they revealed a smattering of inky spots, bunched near Michel’s left armpit and running up along his neck. It was cancer of the immune system—lymphoma.
Given his own area of expertise, Michel understood this meant he’d soon be immunocompromised by chemotherapy.
Having received two doses of Pfizer the prior spring, Michel quickly went to get his third.
If he was about to spend months absorbing poison as he tried to beat a deadly cancer, at least he’d have the most protection possible from the pandemic.
Within a few days, though, Michel was somehow feeling even worse. His night sweats got much more intense, and he found himself—quite out of character—taking afternoon naps. Most worryingly, his lymph nodes were even more swollen than before.
He conferred with Serge again, and they set up another body scan for September 30, six days before Michel was scheduled to start his cancer treatment.
The pictures showed a brand-new barrage of cancer lesions—so many spots that it looked like someone had set off fireworks inside Michel’s body. More than that, the lesions were now prominent on both sides of the body, with new clusters blooming in Michel’s right armpit in particular, and along the right side of his neck.
When Michel’s hematologist saw the scan, she told him to report directly to the nearest hospital pharmacy. He’d have to start on steroid pills right away, she told him.
Such a swift progression for lymphoma in just three weeks was highly unusual, and he could not risk waiting a single day longer.
As he followed these instructions, Michel felt a gnawing worry that his COVID booster shot had somehow made him sicker. His brother was harboring a similar concern.
The asymmetrical cluster of cancerous nodes around Michel’s left armpit on the initial scan had already seemed “a bit disturbing,” as his brother said; especially given that Michel’s first two doses of vaccine had been delivered on that side.
Now he’d had a booster shot in the other arm, and the cancer’s asymmetry was flipped.
The brothers knew this might be just an eerie coincidence. But they couldn’t shake the feeling that Michel had experienced what would be a very rare yet life-threatening side effect of COVID vaccination.
For a doctor who had spent four decades studying and advocating for new medicines, that feeling would unfold into many months of deliberation and self-doubt.
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