I got the phone call on Mother's Day, May 11, 2014. My oncologist had promised to call me over the weekend if my needle biopsy tuned out to be positive. Finding out that I had male breast cancer was a shock for sure but getting the news on a day of celebration with my family was intensified by the irony of the moment. Time seemed to stand still as I found myself squeezed in a sort of suspended animation; stuck between a happy day and the shocking realization that I could actually die soon. I imagined the feeling to be a bit like having a pie thrown in your face by a stranger. One minute you're laughing alongside your siblings, and the next moment you're blinded by whipped cream; struggling to breathe and wondering how an unknown assailant could inflict such a heartless attack upon you.
And thus began my education. I never intended to know much about cancer. Other than the fact that I ran a 10K "Race for the Cure" every year, my experience with the disease was limited. My knowledge of breast cancer in men was zero. Once we enter the "Cancer Club", many of us are obliged to study up on our particular form of the disease in order to plan our strategy and set the course for our recovery.
I've lived a few years now since my cancer diagnosis. Mammograms have become routine and ultrasound exams are not much more than a distraction in my day. I can say the word "cancer" without the gut reaction I once had. I am open and even eager to share my experience with other men in hopes of spreading a bit of awareness about the disease.
But I'm always mindful of that shadowy figure that seems to follow me; that unrelenting trickster holding the pie and waiting for me drop my guard. Oddly, just like the various tests and procedures I've come to accept over the years, keeping one eye on the possibility of my cancer returning has become part of normal for me. That's simply the way things are.
Another surprise for me is the degree of interest I've found in the entire spectrum of cancer as a disease. I was thrown into this research, kicking and screaming perhaps, but now it plays a substantial role in my life. It's an ongoing puzzle that has plagued humankind since the ancient Egyptians first documented its existence. Today, when I walk down any city street I'm aware that about one out of every three people I pass will develop cancer in their lives. I see people differently now. And I realize of course, that I am now part of that statistic.
So this month, on Mother's Day, I celebrate my five-year anniversary of being cancer-free, or as I like to say, symptom-free. The five-year mark is certainly something to be thankful for but it's not a free pass to survival. Statistically I am less likely to have my breast cancer return, but the numbers are a crapshoot, and of course they are based on figures that began five years ago. It's not an unimportant milestone, but in the long run it's just another mile in a very long race.
In any case, these 1,825 days cancer-free do not relieve me of my attention nor my commitment to the cancer cause. In fact, my desire to be of service in some meaningful way is stronger than ever. So, the work continues. But for this Mother's Day, though my Mom is no longer with us, I am forever grateful to still be alive after five years, and to make this occasion all about her.