I was not a stranger to the world of cancer. My wife is a Radiation Therapist. I have two close friends who were Oncologists. My mother passed away from lung cancer.
In late February of 2004, I rolled over in bed one evening and felt a twinging pain outside of my chest. There was a lump, about an inch long. It looked like a cyst. “What’s that?” I asked my wife. She said its most likely nothing, but probably I should get it checked out.
I visited our family doctor, who also said that it was most likely nothing. He said I should get a mammogram, an ultrasound, and have it biopsied just to make sure.
We are the select few males who can say we had a mammogram. When I walked into the waiting room, everything was pink. No one else was there, so I changed the TV to ESPN. I was going to make it as manly as possible. I was in decent shape, and there was very little “breast” to squeeze in that crazy machine! I thought to myself “Thank God they don’t do this to testicles”!
Later that week I had the biopsy. I woke up from the procedure, the surgeon hovering over me, and my wife off to the far corner with my friend Phil, one of the oncologists. Their faces and the surgeon’s voice told the story. I was part of the one half of 1% that were male and had breast cancer. It was Stage 2. We were to set up a mastectomy with the surgeon.
This was followed up with a visit with my good friend Brian…now my Chemo Oncologist. The plan was to give it a “full blast”. Since I was 44 years old and healthy, the plan was to ensure any remnant of cancer, after the surgery, would be destroyed.
The surgery and recovery were the most painful thing I had ever endured. Of course, it was a prelude to the suckiest part of cancer.
I had 4 rounds of chemo every 2 weeks. There were 2 kinds, but it was the red devil I remember best. The cherry-red Adriamycin in a large syringe that was shot into my wrist area, while the other chemo drug dripped. I remember asking why they injected the Red Devil this way. The nurse said because if it got on my skin, it would burn it! Oh….so put it into my bloodstream? What the Hell?
The nausea medicine I took worked well, but that was the only good part of the experience. I describe chemo to others as the worst hangover you ever had, but the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th days, it was still a hangover that wouldn’t seem to go away! It sucked.
My wife and three young children were awesome. My friends were awesome! My wife was an angel having to deal with a 6, 9, and 11 year old kids…..and me. I think I was a little grumpy during the experience.
It all seems so distant now. Of course, I am still aware every time I take a shower and see the concave right chest. Whenever I have to have blood drawn or have blood pressure taken, and tell the nurse to use my left side. There were a couple of health issues where we would be extra careful because I am a survivor. All that, and yes….I am still here…..and yes, a survivor.
My advice is what naturally happens after an experience like mine. When you go through it, it’s really easy to understand. Every day is great day. Enjoy life and the experiences. Appreciate them.
Warren Zevon, who passed soon after from cancer, and was on David Letterman. During the interview, Letterman asked Zevon what he took away from the experience of having cancer. Warren’s reply was ”Enjoy every sandwich!”. Now there are words to live by!