I am forever grateful for the support and the awareness shared by friend, accountant, and “Bosom Buddy!”
I look in the mirror and there it is. A diagonal line, about eight inches long. It stretches from my right armpit to my sternum. It’s always there. The scar. It’s always there.
April 8, 1999. It’s tax time in the United States, and that means a last-minute dash to my accountant’s office, where I am both nervous at the prospect of owing the government more money and anxious to get this annual torture behind me. The office looks the same as it did last year and the year before and the year before that. The secretary is as friendly as always and the coffee is as bad as I remember it. As I walk down the hall to my accountant’s office, I reflect for a moment on how quickly time passes. Wasn’t I just here? Same wrinkled white shirt, same tie askew, same papers piled high on his desk. Yes, indeed.
It’s tax time. Standing up with outstretched hand, Rod smiles his big Irish smile as he greets me. Same old Rod, friendly and inviting. But he looks tired. Really tired, and different. “How are you?” I ask with more than the usual everyday courtesy tone. “Are you all right?” “Actually,” he says, “I just finished my second round of chemo and I am a bit out of sorts.” A quick tilt of my head tells him that I didn’t know about the, what? Cancer? “Yes.” He says, reading my face, “I had a modified radical mastectomy in January.”
Too much to process. Not only is Rod sick, he has cancer. And, wait a minute, what did he just say? “Modified radical mastectomy?” Breast cancer? Rod? A man? Breast cancer? Again, my expression speaks for me as I stare across the desk. He’s seen this look before, I can tell. “Surprised me, too!” he says with a small, thin smile and raised eyebrows. I give him a hug and tell him I’ll pray for him. He says, “Thank you” and smiles his big Irish smile but this time, a little less big.
I walk out of Rod’s office, down the hall, out the door, down the stairs, out onto the sidewalk and toward my car. As I reach for my keys with one hand, I puzzle about how we allow the small things in life to steal our time when time goes by so quickly. With the other hand, I check out my breasts. First the left one, then the right one. Then I stop dead in my tracks. Behind the right nipple, hard as a rock, about the size of a small pea, I feel something. No pain, but definitely, something. Breast cancer?
In a pathology report issued June 2, 1999, I got my answer:
SAMUELSON, MICHAEL, M 51 YRS, DIAGNOSIS: BREAST (RIGHT): INVASIVE DUCTAL CARCINOMA.
On June 14, 1999, like my friend and accountant, Rod Byrne, I had a modified radical mastectomy. What are the odds, indeed.
After the cancer surgery, I became an avid world trekker with high altitude mountain adventures logged in Asia, Europe, Africa, Central America, South America, Alaska and the US lower 48. In November 2014, I travelled to the Galapagos Islands with National Geographic for a once-in-a-lifetime photography and hiking adventure.
In May 2015, my fourth book was published: Beyond Survival: Living a Life of Thrival. It is available on kindle and in print from Amazon. My fifth book, ICONIC ANN ARBOR, is due out in December 2022.