For many of us, riding a bicycle for the very first time was a momentous occasion. It was a rite of passage in many ways, allowing us as children to surmount a huge obstacle that stood in our way. Balance and gravity had to be addressed, but more importantly, our sense of confidence upon taking that first ride free of the training wheels was a great leap in our ability to face a rickety world. Those first few seconds of freedom were powerful indicators of what we might achieve as grownups.
I can trace my relationship with male breast cancer and how I deal with the trauma of having a rare and often fatal disease to a number of important milestones as I grew into adulthood. Like anyone, I've been dealt a good number of disappointments in my life, but it's those occasions that allowed me to succeed, as in riding that first bicycle, that has given me the drive and the stamina to wake up as a cancer survivor every day.
I'd like to think that living with cancer is akin to riding a bicycle. But it's really more like riding a unicycle.
Riding a bike is relatively safe. The rider has an opportunity to fall to the left or to the right. When I was given my first unicycle for my 12th birthday, I realized that the challenge of balancing on a single wheel is vastly more difficult than balancing on two.
Just sitting on the seat while holding on to a wall or some other solid object is difficult enough, but letting go takes an act of blind faith and an almost absurd willingness to fall down. Because you will.
Riding a unicycle, the rider has a good chance of falling in all directions, and not just side to side. And this is how I think of my cancer diagnosis today. How wonderful it would be to be able to predict the future path of our cancer like a fall from a bicycle compared to the endless possibilities of tumbling from a one-wheeled contraption.
Like many cancers, male breast cancer has so many avenues by which it can infiltrate our bodies. In a study presented at the American Society for Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual meeting, researchers found that in a large cohort of breast cancer survivors, 28 percent of the males ended up with a second diagnosis of prostate cancer. And the cancer that was removed from my left breast could find its way through an open avenue to my lungs, my brain or my bones. These are not fun thoughts for sure, but neither is crashing to the pavement on a unicycle.
Two weeks after getting that unicycle on my 12th birthday, I was riding up and down the street, and I continued to ride it unscathed before giving it away on my 60th birthday. That was four years before male breast cancer showed up in my life.
Cancer invites risk. Every procedure we endure to eradicate it from our bodies and our lives is a gamble of sorts. But, like learning to take that first bike ride, we must be willing to let go and allow our trust to fully take flight. We have to focus on that spot down the street, that symbolic marker that we hope to peddle to in order to say, "I made it."
Perhaps this comparison of cancer and unicycles is too simplistic. But I believe that all too often we complicate our path to survival, mostly with our own thoughts. I hear many survivors talk about hope and determination and trust and accepting the unknown and the unknowable.
If that's not like riding a unicycle, I don't know what is. Living with cancer can be a wild and turbulent ride. But our quest to be healed can often be made easier through a sense of balance and courage and confidence, along with our willingness to take a little tumble now and then.