My Bogeyman’s Name Is Cancer

Ignorance is bliss, but not when it comes to hereditary illness

Olivia Semple
Human Parts
Published in
9 min readJul 2, 2019


Photo: Adam Kuylenstierna/EyeEm/Getty Images

TThe bogeyman: In Quebec, we call him Bonhomme Sept Heures; in France he’s Croque-Mitaine. In Spanish, it’s El Coco or Cucuy. Whatever you call him, he’s a mythical monster used around the world to scare children into good behavior.

Adults like to pretend there’s no such thing as the bogeyman when the truth is we just have other names for him.

My bogeyman’s name is cancer.

It took my father when I was 16. Then it took his brother, too. On my mother’s side, cancer is sprinkled around like fatal confetti: too many relatives and varieties to list.

The bogeyman lurks in the shadows of my family tree, waiting.

It was Friday evening around six when my doctor called with the results of the breast biopsy I’d had Monday. I was in the car with my friend Andrea. The phone rang and we looked at each other. “That’s the doctor,” I told her when I saw the number on the screen.

“You’re gonna be okay,” Andrea declared, and I clicked the button on my steering wheel to answer. I started looking for a place to pull over and my doctor’s voice came through the car speakers.

“What are you doing right now?” she asked.

“Driving, trying to pull over so I can talk to you.”

“Okay,” she said. “Let’s wait till you do.”

I knew in that instant that she wasn’t going to give me the all clear I’d been hoping for. There was a knot in my stomach the size of a fist. I pulled into a parking spot. Andrea put her hand on my thigh and squeezed. I took my phone off Bluetooth and put it up to my ear, and before Dr. L had even started explaining that my pathology results potentially indicated something called ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), I knew. The air was different.

“DCIS?” I repeated, even though I’d heard her just fine.

“Yes. You’ve heard about it?” she asked.

“Doc, you know me well enough by now. I like to research things. I’ve been reading about it since the mammogram came back weird.”



Olivia Semple
Human Parts

Gypsy lady, chocolate fiend. Forever dizzy at Kierkegaard's abyss. I should be editing my novel but I’m procrastinating here instead.