Dennis Shewell
October 2016

Four cancers. My wife Pam and I have fought through four different cancers, only one wasn’t so different.

On February 12th, 2010 while getting ready to head out for an early Valentine’s Day dinner, I felt a shock in my left breast. I’m an electrician, so that’s how I would describe it. I immediately put my hand on my chest and felt a lump just under my left nipple. I had Pam feel the spot, she had been through breast cancer in 1991. The next morning we were in our primary care doctor’s office and saw Dr. Steven Lum.

The doctor felt my lump, squeezed it and said, “You’re a man, I have a feeling it’s an abscess.”  I was given steroidal pills to use for two weeks and sent on my way. But, the pills didn’t help. Then Dr. Lum felt the lump was more than an abscess and probably needed to be removed. I was sent to see surgeon Dr. Alan Cheung at Castle Medical Center.

Dr. Cheung felt around and asked me if there was any cancer in my family.  I remembered my grandmother had fought breast cancer and Dr. Cheung quickly decided to do a needle biopsy instead of removing the lump.

Three days later I went back for the biopsy results.  While waiting to be seen, I overheard Dr. Cheung discussing a diagnosis with a woman in the next room. He told her she only had an abscess and not to worry.  I expected to hear the same from Dr. Cheung.  When he came in to speak to me and told me I had breast cancer, I couldn’t believe the words I heard. He told me we would to take care of it.  He told me the “Gold Standard” for men was a mastectomy and handed me some pamphlets. It was if I was deaf. I didn’t hear a word he said. I walked down the hall in total shock to make some more appointments. The next thing I knew I was scheduled for tests and was sent to the hospital for an immediate ultrasound and MRI. As I left the doctor’s office and headed to the hospital, my wife called me on my cell wondering what was taking me so long. She wanted to know how I made out. When I told her it was cancer, she thought I was joking. Then she got upset because I had told her I didn’t need her to come to the doctor’s appointment with me.

When I got home my wife reached out to her sister who was the head of the Geriatric Department at the University of Hawaii to find out more about Dr. Cheung.  We learned Dr. Cheung had been one of my sister-in-law’s students at the university. Pam’s sister is also a physician. She felt he was well qualified and trusted his opinion.

Still reeling from hearing the word “cancer,” I ate dinner and went right to bed. I tossed and turned, and decided to get out of bed to go on the Internet. Little did I know that earlier my sister-in-law had told my wife to keep me away from the computer. That’s because everything I read on the Internet was bad news, especially for male breast cancer. My mind was made up though. I was going to deal with my breast cancer head on.

I was scheduled for a mastectomy on April 1. March went by quickly because I spent most of the month busy with test after test. As I went into pre-op I was told not to worry.  I managed to keep my sense of humor when asked what color hair my wife had so the nurse could go get her from the waiting room, I replied “Preference #6,” you know, like the color on the box!

The surgery went well at Castle Hospital   My cancer was staged as 1A with no lymph node involvement. I had decided Dr. Ken Sumida would be my oncologist because he was the same doctor my wife used years earlier. He explained my odds would be better if I did chemo, so I started treatments right away.

While going through chemo I was asked if I wanted to take part in a 16-year study for Avastin, a drug used for colon cancer. They were testing to see if it would have any long term help in the prevention of future breast cancer. I agreed and was given Avastin every three weeks for a year. I had the American Cancer Society following me closely and they asked if I would share my story with our local Channel 4 news station in conjunction with the Susan G. Komen Walk/Run. I agreed and they came out to film during my second chemo treatment.  The nurse I had for the day never expected a camera crew and the poor thing was a nervous wreck.

Three weeks into the chemo I started losing my hair, so I decided to cut it all off. After shaving my hair off and my mustache I looked strange. Around the 13th week of chemo I started to get numbness in my hands and feet, which was especially hard for me since I work on cars and was finding it hard to feel anything. I saw Dr. Lum for the aches and numbness. He put me on Lyrica and within two weeks the numbness started to subside. I still have numbness in my feet, but there is no throbbing pain like before. I am still on Lyrica, probably forever I guess, otherwise the numbness returns after a couple of weeks. My chemo treatments lasted for 16 weeks. I’ve been on Tamoxifen and will be until 2021. The Tamoxifen caused severe pain in the beginning, but the doctor felt it might have been because of a reaction with the Avastin. I’m also diabetic, but the diabetes didn’t impact any of my treatments since my meds were adjusted as needed along the way. Dr. Lum kept close track of me through the whole ordeal. Great Doctor!

My breast cancer diagnosis was the fourth cancer in our marriage. Two years before Pam’s breast cancer, she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s in 1990. Then there was my prostate cancer news in 2002. We have two sons and of course we had genetic testing. Both Pam and I are negative for BRCA.

Pam and I moved to Hawaii in 1973.  Both of our sons were born here.  Moving to Hawaii when we did was a fantastic move for both of us. The weather is always nice and the people are nicer. They all make you feel like family. I wouldn’t live any place else in the world. Both of my boys are married now and live on the mainland. One is in Michigan and the other is working for the Navy at Guantanamo Naval Station in Cuba.  We have three granddaughters, the reason for our several trips to the mainland every year.

I’m 68 now and have had great support from my wife, my family and the American Cancer Society. I was in the Navy and worked most of my life for the Federal Government as an Electrician. After I retired in 2002 I went to work for a doctor as a Clinical Research Coordinator. This is part of the reason I signed up in the clinical trial for the Avastin. Now I work on Corvettes and do a lot of bowling. I go for yearly mammograms and see my oncologist every six months because of the Avastin injections.  It was determined half way through my chemo that the Avastin had no effect on breast cancer, but I completed the study as recommended by Dr. Sumida.