To all my male breast cancer survivors: I commend you for your courage, your will power, and your faith in God enabling you to fight this battle for your life. Reading the survivors’ stories sounds just like mine in many cases. From noticing the lump in your chest, to hearing your doctor suggest getting a mammograph biopsy. I recall nervously waiting for the results of the biopsy and then hearing, “I need to speak with you in person.” Those words don’t usually represent good news. If the lump in my chest were benign, the doctor would have just called and said that over the phone.
I will never forget that day, August 22, 2018. The Navigator informed me I had Mammary Carcinoma, or in layman’s terms Breast Cancer. I repeated it over and over again. “Breast Cancer? Are you sure? I’m not a sickly person. How do men even get breast cancer?”. There were so many thoughts that went through my mind following the diagnosis. I’m a retired Detective who lived and worked in some of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Brooklyn, NY, only to be diagnosed with breast cancer. I have two adult daughters who I prayed wouldn’t inherit this disease. And now experiencing male breast cancer, I grow concerned for my son as well. But I had to push forward and inform my family and friends immediately.
When I called a family meeting to announce and discuss my breast cancer diagnosis, my wife was the most emotional and in tears. My children showed concern but were relatively calm and optimistic from the start. They had some questions that I couldn’t answer at the time. They key for me was to reinforce that I’m not going to let cancer beat me, and I’m prepared and willing to fight this disease with all my faith in God, my family’s support, and my friends’ prayers. The war against cancer was officially on, and I was ready for battle! The first step was getting the tumor removed from my chest ASAP.
There were many tests, MRI scans of my chest and X-rays of my abdomen, liver and pancreas that all showed no signs of the Cancer spreading to other organs. That was one sign of relief. My next sign of relief came when the BRCA Genetics test was negative and showing no mutation, meaning my children will not be subjected to this disease genetically. To better understand all my options for beating Cancer, my family joined in meeting the surgeon to learn more about the diagnosis and prognosis. I had a Left Invasive Mammary Carcinoma stage two cancer with a tumor over the left nipple lymph node. My two options were:
- Surgery, Chemotherapy and Radiation
- Chemotherapy, Surgery, Radiation, and five years of taking Tamoxifen (an estrogen supplement to help prevent any spreading of disease after treatment).
After discussing further with doctors, my family, and doing some independent research, I decided Option two was the more certain option for me. I would do chemo every 21 days for six months to shrink the tumor, then have surgery to remove the tumor inflicted lymph nodes without removing my left nipple or entire breast. The last step would be radiation for six weeks, 5 days a week, to further reduce the chance of spreading in the chest area.
Preparing for chemo is interesting considering you learn more about the three types of poison he plans to inject into my body every two days for six months. Cytoxan, Docetaxel and Doxorubicin. Before the fun starts, I had to have a port inserted into my chest to make the injections easier. Overall, I was blessed not to suffer any side effects from the chemo. I experienced loss of hair and taste, and my fingernails turned black. But my mindset would not allow me to focus on that. I had to keep my mind and body strong, so I still went to the gym twice a week and made sure to stay as active as my body would allow. I can’t explain how happy I was to ring that bell on my last day of chemotherapy! I was looking forward to the surgery at that point. Once that lump could be removed from my chest, I could look forward to my hair and body returning back to normal. One battle down, two to go.
Chemotherapy caused the tumor to shrink to half its original size, and there were no signs the cancer had spread to other parts of my body. Furthermore, the doctor confirmed that my surgery would be an out-patient procedure taking about 40 minutes to remove the tumor and any cancerous lymph nodes. It was a great feeling coming out of that surgery. In that moment, we knew the battle was almost over.
The third battle was to have radiation therapy for six and a half weeks, five days a week. The radiation would be in isolated areas and surrounding areas where the tumor was removed to prevent spreading. The radiation rays did burn my skin to another color, but I would not let those side effects conquer my mind and body. I just counted the days to get to the final stage and begin taking the Tamoxifen. Although this would become a part of my daily regimen, the drug helps to prevent a recurrence of the disease.
Winning the war and now a cancer survivor, you must have strong faith to ease your pain and give you the will to survive. I give all blessings and thanks to my God, family, friends, colleagues, and all my doctors. My surgeon, Oncologists, Radiation staff, were all always patient and empathetic. Allow your family and friends to support you and inspire you to get through the day. Being blessed in surviving breast cancer and overcoming all its challenges, I will be a tool to help educate and inform that men do get breast cancer and together we can overcome all adversities to survive.