My Cancer Journey
In December 2018 my partner Sandy noticed something unusual in my right breast. There was a lump behind the nipple. The lump was not visible from the outside; however, if you looked carefully, you could see that the nipple was slightly inverted. This was painless, and I did not feel ill.
I was diagnosed with Stage 3 Grade 3 Breast Cancer. The lump was a ductal carcinoma, approximately 17mm in diameter, or roughly the size of a marble. This is a common type of breast cancer; the standard international treatment protocols apply.
I had surgery the following week, as the primary treatment. The procedure is known as right mastectomy and axillary node dissection. In addition to the mastectomy, the surgeon removed nine lymph nodes, five of which were found to be positive.
I recovered quickly from the surgery. It had a limited effect on the functioning of my dominant right arm. However, with the removal of the nine lymph nodes, I had swelling in my right arm (lymphedema). For a year, I wore a compression sleeve to reduce the swelling.
Adjunctive treatment is supplementary to assist the primary treatment (surgery). After I had recovered from surgery, my oncologist explained this formula: Grade 3 x Stage 3 = High Risk.
Therefore, my treatment protocol would be:
Six months of chemotherapy:
4 EC cycles (red devil), followed by,
12 taxol cycles, and,
Six weeks of radiation therapy.
In May 2020, six months after the end of my treatment, I was declared cancer-free. I have completely recovered. I’m feeling great, and I’m happy to be alive.
My cancer is ER- and PR-positive and is responsive to hormone treatment. I take one small Tamoxifen pill every evening, as a prophylactic. For now, I am on a cycle of check-ups every three months.
How has this affected me?
Nothing can prepare you for the shock of a cancer diagnosis. It is a reality check, and it forces you to relook at your life. I found myself to be ignorant on the basics of breast cancer awareness. How could I not know that men get breast cancer?
My summary of basic breast cancer awareness now includes the following:
Approximately one in eight women will be affected by breast cancer.
Although not very common, men also get breast cancer. Approximately 1% of all breast cancer cases, or 1 in 800, will be men.
The diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer in men and women is the same. This is not a gender issue; it is an awareness issue.
Early detection is key. Breast cancer is curable if detected early, e.g. stages 1, 2 or 3. Hence the recommended regular self-examinations and scans (mammograms) for women.
Men do not scan, and generally we suck at self-examination. More significantly, research shows that up to 33% of men would not seek medical attention if they found a painless lump in their breast. Because of embarrassment, or ignorance, men would often present later with a more advanced breast cancer, and a worse prognosis.
Then I found some disturbing articles about the detection and treatment of breast cancer in men:
A distressing story about a young police constable in the UK who was misdiagnosed by an NHS doctor, and sent home with a box of antibiotic tablets.
He did not receive treatment until it was too late.
This story did not end well.
Here is something dangerous, and nobody is talking about it!
I have joined the Filotimo Cancer Project to talk about this.
Self-Examination and Check-Ups
Women, please continue with your regular self-examinations and, over the age of 40, annual scans (mammograms). Some medical schemes and healthcare providers, such as Discovery Health and the NHS, may tell you that a scan every second year will suffice. It will not. They are trying to cut costs. Rather check with your radiologist.
Women, please check your men!
Men, also please do your annual check-ups.
Do not be embarrassed about something that could kill you.
My cancer journey has affected my outlook on life:
I am fortunate to have made a full recovery, and I’d like to share this message of hope with other cancer patients.
I am very grateful for the incredible love and support I received from my family, friends, colleagues and employers.
My work/life balance has improved. I am more focused and have less tolerance for trivialities or procrastination.
Be kind to others, because you don’t know what they are going through.
Every day is a gift. Live your life to the fullest.