My choice to not undergo chemotherapy for breast cancer was not an easy one, but looking back, I don’t regret it.
The recent death of singer Olivia Newton-John brought breast cancer back into our cancer conversations once again. Every life lost is a stark reminder of the work that is yet to be done to find a cure for those of us who have been diagnosed with any form of this disease.
Olivia championed plant-based medicine, including medical marijuana, as opposed to only chemotherapy to fend off her cancer — a decision that may be both inspirational and controversial, depending on the personal choices we make in our quest to survive.
The decisions that we are required to make after our cancer diagnosis, many of them without the time for deep investigation, put us in a precarious position to do the “right” thing. And we don’t really know if our choices are right until the results become visible.
A few days after my mastectomy for male breast cancer in 2014, I met with an oncologist in California. I was living in Hawaii at the time, and my family pitched in to fly me back to San Diego to talk with a cancer specialist who was highly regarded in his field. That was the year that just 1,200 men were diagnosed in the US.
I was the second man with breast cancer that he had ever advised.
Without really giving it much thought, I had already made three crucial choices that would undoubtedly affect my life. They were the choice to see a physician about that tiny bump on my left breast; the choice to have mastectomy surgery to remove it; and the choice to seek advice from a complete stranger about my future.
But what he didn’t know was that my wife had died a few years earlier at the age of 47, after a four-year battle with ovarian cancer, many surgeries, chemotherapy and clinical trials. She often said that she regretted feeling sick for those years, the result of multiple rounds of chemotherapy, despite the brief interludes between treatments when she felt well enough to carry on. And she told me in no uncertain terms that if she had to do it over again, she would do it differently.
As cancer survivors, we’re certain to get lots of advice from medical professionals, friends and family members, Internet sites and well-meaning strangers. And this is where our choices get difficult, since every final decision we make in our health and healing is ultimately our own.
My personal choice to forgo chemotherapy and other treatments was not made lightly, and given the general attitudes and beliefs of my family members and the physicians I had consulted, my choices were not made easily.
Of course, I continued to monitor my own health diligently with my mammograms, ultrasound and daily personal breast and body checks — something I recommend that all men practice.
Today, eight years after my mastectomy surgery, I am cancer free, or at least, symptom free. It’s important to note that, unless asked, I have never advised a fellow survivor to follow my example. The truth is, things could have turned out very differently. But back then, I made a conscious and indelible promise that I would not regret my choice even if the outcome turned out to be disappointing.
Many of us are required to make ongoing health and life-related decisions multiple times. And it doesn’t get any easier, because the variables are never really reliable.
So, what if my breast cancer returns? Or what if a new disease finds its way into my body and into my life? One thing I’ve learned through my choice to never regret my choices, is to remove my apprehension of what the future may hold. That, after all, is the very point of holding no regrets. Living in this moment is really the only task at hand that I need to consider right now.
In my own cancer experience I’ve made it my intention to survey all the current information available, ask tons of questions, weigh the pros and cons, put a good piece of music on the stereo, make my choices and then get on with the business of living another day.
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