Robert (Bob) Kelley – Diagnosed April 2010
My story begins on the morning of New Year’s Day, 2010 while I was still in bed and still half asleep. That’s when I noticed the lump beneath my right nipple. It got my attention. I got up and went into the bathroom to check it. I told myself it was probably a cyst, but I measured it anyway so I’d be able to check at a later date to see if it had grown. I didn’t mention it to my wife, Marsha. There was no reason to worry her about “nothing”. Then I promptly forgot about it. After all, it was New Year’s Day, or as it’s known in my family, “Beer and Football Day”.
I thought about it from time to time over the next couple of months. But that was a busy time for us and so I just kept putting off visiting a doctor. Both Marsha and I had always had the mind set that, “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it”. I had personally not been to a doctor since leaving the Navy, 35 years before. I was 63 years old, Marsha was 62, and we’d been married for 44 years, with no major medical problems … or so we thought!
Finally in late March, I asked a friend for the name of his family doctor. I made an appointment for a physical and saw the doctor on April 13. He told me the lump was probably nothing to worry about but he scheduled me for a mammogram as a precaution. I left his office feeling very relieved. I was sure the mammogram would reveal that the lump was not cancer. I had the mammogram a couple of days later. They actually routed me through the back entrance so I wouldn’t be “embarassed” by having to sit in the waiting room with a bunch of women. I couldn’t understand why that would bother anybody, but I guess some men might feel uncomfortable in those circumstances.
I actually didn’t begin to feel uncomfortable until they told me the mammogram looked “suspicious”, and that they wanted me to have an ultrasound. After they cleared it with my doctor, they did the procedure. A few minutes later a doctor came in and told me he recommended a biopsy. That’s when I really got scared. The biopsy was done on the 16th but I wasn’t given the results until the 22nd. That period of time waiting for the results was the longest 6 days I’ve ever spent.
Once the diagnosis was made and the surgery was scheduled, I began to feel a little relief. I was still scared, but I became resigned to the facts of my situation and just wanted to get the surgery done and get the whole thing over with. By May 1st, two days before surgery, I was actually feeling pretty comfortable with everything. Marsha and I attended our grandson’s (Noah) little league game that day, and had a pretty relaxing weekend.
Surgery was Monday morning, May 3rd. Marsha was there, as well as our son’s, Robert and Rick, and some of our friends. The surgeon took the entire breast, which I was told is normal procedure in male breast cancer. When I woke up I immediately felt under my right arm, and breathed a sigh of relief. The incision didn’t extend that far. I figured that meant that they hadn’t had to remove many lymph nodes. The nurse told me I could go home that afternoon as soon as I could stand and pee. I immediately asked for something to drink.
As it turned out they had only removed the sentinel node. The cancer had not spread. I was back home before 4PM that afternoon. I’ve always felt that serious illnesses are more difficult for the family than for the patient, and Marsha proved me right. Four days after my surgery she passed out in our condo and had to be rushed to the hospital. After undergoing two days of tests her condition was diagnosed as stress and dehydration. In other words she’d been so concerned with my condition that she had ignored her own. She was released after two days with no further problems, except for the broken toe and hyper extended knee she had suffered from the fall when she had passed out.
I was fortunate that my company’s labour contract provided sufficient short term disability to see me through the entire ordeal, so that I was able to continue to draw a pay check while recuperating. I was out 7 weeks and then we took a weeks vacation to the mountains of upstate New York with our son and daughter in law and grand daughter, Morgan. While there I did a lot of hiking (just to prove to myself that I was still my “old self”.
I returned to work following our vacation, still not knowing if I would need chemo therapy. I had undergone all the necessary tests. A PET scan revealed no cancer cells and the BRAC analysis was negative. However, there had been a delay in getting my ONCO DX tests done. The hospital had sent the tissue samples to the wrong lab. As a result, my results didn’t come back until late July. At that time I was told by my oncologist that chemo was “optional”. My results indicated that I had approximately an 18 percent chance of a reoccurrence without chemo. With chemo that chance could be cut to less than 5 percent.
As far as I was concerned it was a no brainer. Bring on the chemo! I went back out on short term disability and began my chemo therapy on August 17th. Side effects were minimal until my white blood count suddenly took a dive a week after the chemo. I passed out at home and my wife had to call 911. I ended spending 4 days in the hospital. After that experience they elected to give me a shot after each chemo treatment to prevent this kind of thing from happening again.
At this point I have one more chemo treatment to go (my 4th) and I am looking forward to putting this chapter of my life behind me. My treatments are three weeks apart and seem to follow the same pattern. I’m usually feeling fine for three or 4 days after chemo. Then I spend about 8 to 10 days flat on my back with no energy at all. I also have stomach cramping during this period of time but no nausea. After that I have a few days of feeling good again, before the next treatment.
I feel extremely fortunate to have found this cancer early, resulting in a good prognosis. I am surrounded by a wonderful family and extremely supportive group of friends who’ve all made my recovery much easier. I’ve been contacted by “long lost” family members and friends with whom I’ve have not had contact in many years, and the experience has been very humbling. I hope that, by submitting my story, I can help spread the word that men can get this disease too. Early detection, along with a positive outlook and the support of family and friends, is the key to survival.