I found out I had male breast cancer on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 2004 after going to the doctor 13 months earlier with my suspicions. I had been playing on the floor with my dogs when one of them stepped on my right nipple and I felt the lump under her paw. But my primary doctor said, “No, it’s not breast cancer. Men don’t get breast cancer. But I’ll refer you to a specialist, if you like.” The “specialist” was just as certain. He felt the lump and asked my age (53) and diagnosed me with “gynecomastia.” A year later it had doubled to about the size of a pencil eraser, and it hurt, so he finally agreed to do a lumpectomy. Afterward he told my wife and me he had looked at the tissue and it wasn’t cancerous, but he’d send it to the lab anyway. So, when I came back a week later to have the stitches removed, you can imagine my feelings when he walked in with the lab report and a concerned look on his face. He had to tell me I did indeed have breast cancer – and he hadn’t even removed all of it! That was the last time I saw that doctor.
In April, a different surgeon performed a bilateral mastectomy (better safe than sorry), and removed my sentinel lymph nodes to see if the cancer had spread outside my breasts. My newly acquired oncologist and I awaited the pathologist’s report. It wasn’t good, but it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. The cancer was estrogen-positive and advanced, but the nodes were clear. So he (and a separate oncologist) recommended aggressive chemotherapy, but no radiology.
I was ready to begin treatment right away, but my job provided an obstacle or two. You see, I was a veteran newscaster for the ABC TV affiliate in San Diego, KGTV-10. My boss agreed I shouldn’t be on the air during chemo, but neither one of us wanted my sabbatical to begin in mid-May. Then my boss had a brilliant idea: I would chronicle my “battle” with a blog, posted on our web page, 10News.com. I had no idea how much effort – and how many rewards – awaited me. Beginning with my first chemo treatment (Adriamycin and Cytoxan), I tried to write an entry every day (sometimes including pictures, when appropriate), describing how I felt – physically, mentally and emotionally.
Time after time I heard from men or their wives, telling me they only discovered their own male breast cancer after reading my blog. I established contact with more than a dozen such men in the Greater San Diego area, and corresponded with dozens more around the country and the world.
August 25 will always remembered as my “Liberation Day.” That was the day my oncologist analyzed my blood and pronounced me “cured” of cancer. Then we both had a cynical laugh, because one is never “cured” of cancer. In fact, 18 months later I was diagnosed with melanoma, but all that required was surgery – and frequent checkups to this day. My DNA was also analyzed for the presence of the BRCA gene mutation. Fortunately, I did not have it. So what caused my cancer remains very much a mystery.
Still, I am today (as far as anyone knows) cancer free, more than 12 years after my original diagnosis. I credit the Lord, my wonderful wife, and miracles of modern medicine for that. And I thank my boss for allowing me to share my battle on the World Wide Web, and the thousands upon thousands who read and responded to it. That made the whole thing worthwhile.