PUT IT IN YOUR BRA……A Man’s Journey through Breast Cancer I found the lump by accident, lying on my side, brushing against my chest. I was not looking for anything, as men don’t generally know to do a breast exam. The lump was the size of a pea, perfectly round and hard. I knew it should not be there. Thus April 2009 began “my journey with breast cancer” with the diagnosis of invasive ductal carcinoma, stage 2. Both of my grandmothers had breast cancer, one dying at age 38, and the other surviving to 91 after having a radical mastectomy in 1929 at age 25. Breast cancer had always been a part of my life, but I never imagined that as a male I was at risk. Less than 1% of diagnosed breast cancer is in men. Every step I was told we know so little about male breast cancer. The protocol is the same as for women – 6 months of chemotherapy, a modified radical mastectomy, and removal of all axillary lymph nodes, followed by six weeks of radiation.
Initially, I was so focused on the doctors, the testing, and getting treatment started that it all was a whirlwind. Telling people I had male breast cancer their reaction was “Wow ! I didn’t know it was possible”, or “Oh my gosh, HOW do they do a mammogram?”?”. The first couple of weeks in this whirlwind were a distraction. Then, suddenly I found myself alone and thinking: you have cancer.
With male breast cancer, you’re pretty much an oddity through the process. It is a very altering process, both psychologically and physically. After 9 mammogram images, ultra sound, and marker placement, I was told that I could get dressed and the nurse would be in. She arrived with two small pink & white floral ice packs……and printed instructions that said “Place the ice packs in your bra.” !!! That was the beginning of my journey with Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, or Male Breast Cancer.
Many people think that it is not that big of a deal for men – there is not the emotional aspect as for women. But there is an impact when you see your body altered. Cancer is a huge interruption in life….and the uncertainty of a reoccurrence does stay with you. It is not a surgery that “fixes things”; there are lingering issues such as lymphedema, cardio logicalcardiological impact, skin issues, and medication side effects. But there is also a huge dose of gratitude for having received great medical attention and the latest treatments to propel you to a full life ahead. There is a “new normal” and it has blessings as well.
I needed to find a sense of purpose, an understanding or a belief in myself that I could get through the treatments and cancer. With guidance, I began to understand spirituality and I found acceptance of myself and my “journey with cancer”. Finding inner peace is so important to the healing process. Cancer really forced me to explore my beliefs, learning the strength one can get from family and friends, how much a kind thought or word means, and that there is a higher power than oneself.
I learned a lot about myself: my life, my wonderful family and friends, my many blessings and experiences. I had tremendous support from my family, in particular my twin brother Mitchell.
The twin bond really came into play on this journey. He and my sister in law Dianne were with me every step of the way. These are what life is about, and I learned to live prayerfully in appreciation of a wonderful life, and acceptance of the “interruption” that cancer brought to mine.