My breast cancer was discovered while playing basketball with my youngest son, when I caught an elbow or shoulder into my right nipple. There had been a lump there, but I also had a couple of other lipomas, and I thought it was probably the same thing. But, after this hit, no way. I was 52 at the time and was diagnosed with Stage I breast cancer within a couple of days; long enough for online research and the thought that I might be toast!
I had a mastectomy and chemo in 2003, followed by Tamoxifen. I had a recurrence in the scar in 2006, which lead to more surgery, chemo, radiation and then Arimidex.
In late 2016, I had a metastatic recurrence, when the cancer spread to chest wall, abdominal lymph nodes and the spine, ribs, sacrum, and pelvis. This is Stage IV–I am currently on treatments of Ibrance, Letrozole, Lupron and Zometa. There are some unpleasant side effects, but I don’t complain much as I know this devil.
My wife and I just approached the diagnosis and treatment mostly as process, while my teenaged sons knew other adults with cancer, and this deflected them to some extent. It was much harder on the last diagnosis in 2016, but I have a strong support system from family, friends and my medical team.
I kept the news of my diagnosis close until it was clear I was going to lose my hair. In 2006, I left the hair off so as to be able to control the news cycle in the event of recurrence. It did recur—this was a magic decision, as news of my health had commercial value.
I had genetic testing but tested negative for BRCA mutations. However, I have two sisters out of six who have also had breast cancer.
Obviously, the breast cancer diagnosis impacted my life in many ways, and it has been anything but boring or ordinary. By chance an acquaintance got me involved in mountaineering and we climbed our first major peak, Kilimanjaro, in 2006. Since, I’ve climbed five of the seven summits and have climbed many places on all continents. This avocation has taken me to over 70 countries for climbs and treks, some with family. Something this robust requires significant physical work and a big diet. Medical people claim these are a large part of what really keeps me in the game. I also spend a fair amount of energy in support of others with breast cancer, both men and women. It has truly been the fast lane—I doubt it would have been anything like this if I had not gotten the cancer. That said, it’s not a recommended path.
People should understand that there are many similarities to breast cancer in women, although we tend not to worry about reconstruction. Typically, we are not abandoned and it’s cool to keep that head shaved and go bald. Unfortunately, the survival numbers are not quite as good for men. However, I plan to be among those survival stats. I do not allow, and recommend to others, that they not permit negative people around them. Also, do not allow pity, and for sure do not ask the Why Me question. Work out hard regularly and eat very well—this is highly important. It is also important to participate in life, be a doer, not a watcher. I got tired of seeing that scar and got a major tat—absolutely liberating. I can run at the park without a shirt again. Go do this!