I am Leon, a 45-year-old male with breast cancer. It has taken me most of 2020 to “own and say that aloud” that sentence, I have breast cancer I was naive enough to assume only happened to a woman.
My grandmother had it twice, my aunt, in fact, most of the woman (on my gran’s side have had breast cancer) As for the men, well they were more prone to prostate cancer, so from 40 years of age I went once a year for a prostate exam. My dad passed away from prostate cancer in 2007, and we as a family just always said “boys, go for your prostrate check-ups, ladies, make sure you go for your mammograms” it seems like cancer is in the family gene.
My personal journey started on the 3rd of January 2020. I felt a lump on my left breast, and thought it strange, but did not give it much thought. I had seen weeping from my left nipple a few times before, but I had my nipples pierced in 2017 and according to google it was lymph fluid and my body was just healing, I just needed to bathe it in a saline solution. The next morning, I called my doctor and asked if I could come through and have him check it out. By this time, I had looked up online, and when typing in the fluid coming out of nipple men’s breast leaving out the word “nipple piercing” I had found vastly different results. I was sent the next Monday for an ultrasound, and the very same day a mammogram and biopsy, where it was confirmed as breast cancer.
WHAT? HOW? WHY? BUT IM A MAN. MEN DON’T GET THAT? So many questions. I literally checked out from reality and went into a mental space of “if I do not think of it it’s not real”. My family was fantastic, going to check-ups and appointments with the surgeon and oncologist with me. Looking back, I felt like the man who went to all these appointments and the family ask all the questions because I don’t want to hear the answers.
It was decided that because the cancer was in my breast tissue and lymph nodes and clavicle, I would benefit from chemotherapy first. The chemo plan was 3 lots of FEC followed by 12 sessions of Paclitaxel.
Friday the 24th January, I sat in the chemo room chair, and had my first round of “this red chemotherapy called FEC” I had not read up on it, because I was possibly still either in denial, or scared to know the truth. Boy did it hit me the Sunday. I was nauseous, it’s a feeling I still struggle to put into words. I would be a man down for a week after treatment. Thank goodness treatment only came along every 3rd week.
By this time, it was suggested I go for genetic testing because being a male and being diagnosed with breast cancer the chances were high that I had the BRCA gene. (it’s basically a saliva sample that gets tested) It was confirmed that I indeed had BRCA2 gene.
After the FEC, I had to go onto weekly doses of Paclitaxel along with a Herceptin injection every 3rd week in my leg because my test results concluded that I was HER2 positive.
The surgery was set for the 15th of July. 9.30 am My surgeon advised that because of my positive BRCA gene, it may be a better option to do a bilateral mastectomy. I was told it took about 4 hours for the procedure. I was transferred to ICU after surgery and really had no pain. I spent 8 days in the hospital. They did a complete removal of all my lymph nodes under my left arm as there were traces of cancer in 3 of the nodes. The post-surgery autopsy showed pre-cancer cells in my right breast too, so it was the right decision to have both breasts removed simultaneously.
I finished with 25 sessions of radiation in mid-October. Side effects were basically fatigue, but I have now learned that an afternoon nap works wonders. My hair and eyebrows have grown back, and life seems to be returning to my new normal.
This week I went for blood tests, as well as a CT scan, and my oncologist called to say they are happy, and I have been given the all-clear. Now for a check-up in 3 months’ time again. The next step is 5 years on Tamoxifen.
Post-treatment and I have now finally realized what a massive journey this year has been with my diagnosis and am grateful for the support of family and friends. I have come out stronger, empowered with knowledge that even though I thought I was walking this path alone, there have been plenty who have walked this road before me, and many right next to me. So, to all who are fighting the battle, be strong cancer warriors.