Chronic bullying behind teen cancer tragedy

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A large photograph of a smiling teenage boy dominates Lorraine Greenhough’s dining room - a tribute to a son loved and lost.

Scott was only 18 years old when he died in May 2009 after battling nasal and throat cancer for almost three years.

The grief Lorraine felt at losing her boy was made even more bitter however, by the belief that his cancer had been the result of stress caused by bullying.

“The bullying was right through his school years, but it got worse when he became a teenager,” the 51-year-old says.

“I think they picked on him because he wouldn’t ever say anything back. He was a very quiet and gentle young man.”

As she speaks, a heart–shaped pendant hangs around her neck – it has Scott’s finger print on it and was made towards the end of his life.

“It keeps him close to me,” Lorraine tells me.

Scott enjoyed playing games on his PlayStation console and wanted to work with animals when he left school.

“He’d sit up all night playing on the PlayStation because he didn’t want the next day to come around,” she continues.

Some days the fear of being confronted by bullies again would make the teenager physically sick.

On occasion, Lorraine noticed bruises on her son’s body, but he refused to tell her where he got them from.

“He kept it all inside and I think that’s what made him really ill,” she says.

Scott was diagnosed with the illness when he was 16 years old after developing a lump on his throat.

“He just took it all in his stride,” Lorraine, who now lives in Darley Dale, remembers. “He was so brave.”

It was when Scott was undergoing treatment at Nottingham University Hospital, that a doctor suggested to Lorraine stress may have been a catalyst in his illness.

“The doctor said that when you have a lot of stress and worry and you keep it in, there is evidence linking that to some cancers.

“He didn’t smoke and he didn’t drink. I think all the worry of being bullied just wore down his immune system.”

The issue of a link between stress and cancer is hotly debated in the scientific community.

A study into the effects of stress on the health of women in the Finnish town of Cohort, undertaken by the University of Helsinki, outlined a link between traumatic events – such as the loss of a relative and divorce – and the onset of breast cancer. Likewise, a study by Yale University led by Professor Tian Xu, which used fruit flies to study the activity of two genes known to be involved in development of human cancers, found stress induced signals that cause cells to develop into tumours.

Lorraine became a full time carer for her teenage son, however when his condition worsened he went to Ashgate Hospice. After he died, she fell into a depression.

“I wanted to say to all those people who made my son’s life a misery ‘I hope you’re satisfied that he’s no longer here and I’ve got to live with that for the rest of my life - knowing how he suffered’,” she says.

Now Scott is gone, she has only her memories of him and a stark message to bullies: “Never name call or poke fun at anybody for how they look or if they are quiet, because they take it to heart.

“You don’t realise how much pain you cause.”