Two years ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing my friend and former 10News colleague, Bill Griffith for an article in Palomar Health’s “The HealthSource” magazine. A six-year male breast cancer survivor at the time, Bill spoke candidly about his rare experience with the devastating disease that kills 40,000 women a year in the United States.
Lighthearted and positive about his treatment and recovery, when I asked Bill whether he’d known that men could develop breast cancer, he gravely admitted, “I knew it was possible. I just never thought it would happen to me.” I shuddered…imagining for a brief moment being in his place.
Meanwhile, in a companion article on the same page with Bill’s interview, yours, truly pontificated, opined and passed along expert advice on how to avoid becoming a breast cancer statistic. “Up to a third of breast cancer cases could be avoided,” I wrote, “if women tried eating less and exercising more.”
I remember feeling a bit smug as I passed along the results of a major study done by the World Health Organization. Twenty-five to 30 percent of breast cancer cases could be avoided, according to the study, if women were thinner and exercised more. With confidence bordering on arrogance, I recall thinking surely I must be immune. I’ve exercised and eaten well for years. Breast cancer could never happen to me.
A phone call from my doctor in early January shattered that notion and my world. In a matter of seconds, I went from arrogance to gut-wrenching fear as I joined my friend, Bill Griffith as one of the more than 200,000 men and women diagnosed with breast cancer each year.
Like Bill, I didn’t fit the profile of a breast cancer victim. Or so I thought. As I’ve come to learn in recent months, breast cancer doesn’t care about your “profile.” Breast cancer can happen – to anyone.
I received the grim diagnosis January 2. With mirror image, slow-growing tumors in both breasts, my options were few. Several weeks later I underwent double mastectomies with lymph node dissections on both sides.
In the weeks prior to surgery, I recall my emotions….alternating between calm resolve and denial. This can’t be happening, I reasoned. I have no family history of breast cancer. I’ve never smoked. I exercise and eat well. I’m healthy! I’m a health reporter, for heaven’s sake!
Desperate and terrified, I cried out to God, “You must have me confused with someone else – someone who can actually do this!” Weak, scared and completely ill-equipped to face my ordeal, I prayed for strength. It worked.
God’s strength along with the love and support of my sweet husband, loving family, faithful friends and health-care providers literally carried me through the toughest time in my life.
Eight months later, things are getting back to normal. I’m on anti-estrogen therapy and going through the reconstruction process and grateful for renewed strength to work, play, laugh (and swim in La Jolla Cove!)
Life goes on, but some things are forever changed. Although I’m currently considered cancer-free, I’m now keenly aware there are no guarantees. And so I gratefully live one day at a time – replacing my former pride and arrogance with humility and compassion.
I still swim and eat lots of salmon and blueberries. But I now know that may not be enough to keep breast cancer at bay. There are many risk factors to consider and the need, more than ever, for early detection and treatment. Because when it comes to breast cancer, it doesn’t matter who you are.
Contact Carol by emailing her at Carol@palomarhealth.org.