It must be human nature to remember the details of your day when you hear bad news. Many of us recall exactly what we were doing the day John F. Kennedy was shot. Or more recently, we can describe our activities when we learned about 9/11. I suppose then, it is not surprising that the day I found out that breast cancer had entered our lives is as clear now as it was almost three years ago.
Men get breast cancer, too
I was in the kitchen with my 18-year old son, and my husband had just come home from his appointment with the surgeon. I knew what he was going to say before he ever uttered those life-changing words, “I have breast cancer.” The three of us huddled together as we cried in each other’s arms.
We had known that men could get breast cancer, yet it never occurred to us that the lump my husband felt was anything more than a cyst. And because breast cancer did not enter our minds, Lee waited nearly six months before seeing a doctor. At the young age of 48, the love of my life was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer. As with women facing a similar diagnosis, Lee had a mastectomy, four months of chemotherapy, and six weeks of radiation. Needless to say, it was a difficult time for us.
Walking as a team
As Lee was nearing the end of his treatments, our oldest daughter asked him if he would like to join her for a breast cancer walk. Even though I thought it would be a special father-daughter activity, I was feeling a little left out. But when Pamela explained to me that the walk covered sixty miles over three days and you sleep in tents, I understood why I was not included! This was not the type of adventure I would ever pursue.
Lee, a Breast Cancer Survivor
Thankfully, I changed my mind. I realized that as challenging as this event might be, it paled in comparison to what Lee had endured. So in August, just six months out of treatment, Lee and I walked in our first Breast Cancer 3-Day with two of our children. We named our family team, “Breast Man Walking” in Lee’s honor and as a means to raise awareness about male breast cancer.
Sharing miles and stories
We each made all sixty miles an accomplishment we savored. But it was the connections we made on the route that truly inspired us. We shared our story and listened to the stories of countless others who talked of survival, courage, and sadly, defeat. For the first time since Lee’s diagnosis, it felt like something made sense; that maybe being part of this special community was the answer to “Why us?”
Since our first Walk in 2006, Lee and I have participated in seven more Breast Cancer 3-Day events, and have raised more than $100,000 to fight breast cancer. At each of these events, Lee has been honored to stand in the Survivors’ Circle during the Opening and Closing Ceremonies. We truly believe that his participation and visibility at the Walks has educated people about male breast cancer, possibly even sparing a life.
Lee’s family at a breast cancer walk
Cancer puts you to the test
Any life-threatening illness puts you to the test and breast cancer is no exception. You learn how to keep hope in the face of despair; how to stay strong for the ones you love, even though you do not have an ounce of energy. And somewhere along the way, you realize that something as ugly as breast cancer can give rise to a beautiful, new journey. This is what the Breast Cancer 3-Day has done for us. If our steps can bring a cure to this horrible disease one step closer, then maybe Lee’s own struggle was almost worth it.