One morning, I had just finished showering and looked at myself in the hotel room mirror. I have always had man boobs, but this time my nipple was noticeably inverted. My wife, Denise, recommended I have it checked out once we got home from our vacation.
I was fortunate to still have my insurance and made an appointment with my family doctor to be seen in November 2015 for blood work and to discuss my nipple issue. Once I finally got in to talk with the doctor, there was very little discussion. She immediately recommended a mammogram and scheduled me the following week.
People looked at me strangely in the waiting room as I stood up and walked towards the office door when my name was called for the mammogram. I was guided into the dressing room, and once I was having the test, I was pleased by the warm environment that made me feel comfortable and at ease despite the large mammography machine. I was instructed on how to stand and position my body for the first breast screening of my life.
Due to areas of concern found during the screening, I was called in a few days later for a biopsy, on December 15th, 2015. After I waited a few minutes for the results, the doctor finally entered and seemed to be overcome with sadness and emotion as she told me that I have cancer. I remained surprisingly calm as I listened to the news in this now surreal environment.
I met with the oncologist and was given a choice of two options. My breast cancer was classified as Stage 2B since I was told there was some spreading to the lymph nodes. After thinking it through, I chose the more aggressive therapies of the two options given to me. This would consist of chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation therapy. At one point during the chemo, the nurse had me chewing on crushed ice. Apparently, chewing ice would help prevent bleeding mouth sores from developing after the Doxorubicin (or “Red Devil” as it is sometimes called due to its high toxicity) was slow pushed into my port. Being more of an extrovert than most, it was natural for me to talk to others about their own experiences. I found that helping them was one of the main things that helped me overcome my own mental challenges.
I had 16 weeks of chemotherapy. My white cells dropped after the first week and I had to start taking Neulasta shots to help my counts improve. After two weeks I had not lost my hair like I had always heard people say would happen, until one morning (Day 15), while on my way to work following my second chemo visit, I was barely pulling on my beard. When I looked down at my shirt, I saw a lot of my beard had just shed in that instant.
Upon completion of my chemotherapy in June 2016, I was to see the surgeon and be scheduled for what originally was discussed as a full mastectomy.
They looked at the results of my chemotherapy and determined, due to the good response, the surgeon would do a partial mastectomy along with a partial lymphetomy.
The surgery went well and the doctor explained the original cancerous lymph node still had cellular cancer and the three other lymph nodes showed clear. He suggested a full lymphectomy, which I declined, figuring one bad and three clear were enough for me to gather the odds were in my favor.
The breast lump itself had shrunk considerably after the chemotherapy, and the surgeon was also pleased and satisfied with the removal of the lump and surrounding area.
Radiation therapy began in August 2016. I had 37 daily treatments and quickly started to feel the aftereffects, which to me felt like a really bad sunburn initially. Soon my skin became much more sensitive on whichever areas were receiving treatment. It seemed like the radiation therapy sessions ended at the point that I could barely stand any more treatments – like they definitely know just how much a person can tolerate.
I began taking the drug Tamoxifen, which I will need to continue for at least five years. Fortunately, no side effects so far.
My most recent appointment was on February 3rd of this year. My oncologist actually said the “R” word – Remission. That was definitely a great word for me to hear. I was reminded I needed to lose weight. With some knee issues and lingering fatigue, it is difficult to get back into an exercise regimen. I mostly try to remain active and have recently started doing more around the house and walking a little more. I am hoping to get back into the gym and start working out a little bit to help get my weight down and hopefully reduce the daily fatigue.
We have no family history of breast cancer. My father had prostate cancer 10+ years ago and was treated successfully with radiation therapy. I have one sister and two brothers, one of which had prostate cancer. I went through genetic testing and it was determined that my breast cancer was negative for BRCA1 and BRCA2 meaning no known genetic mutation. This was good news, because I have two adult children – one son (aged 29) and one daughter (aged 26).