One of my most powerful drugs | PERSONAL STORY

It is a commonly held belief that men don’t generally share health-related emotions and experiences for whatever reasons, so I thought it time to share mine among BCNA’s community in the hope of engendering further discussion and debate, and increased understanding.

I was originally diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010. I underwent a mastectomy followed by chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

Everything seemed to be going well during the following four years. My six-monthly check- ups consisted of the usual array of blood tests, but otherwise remained largely physiological in nature. The drug of choice for ongoing treatment for me at this point in time was Femara.

During this time I experienced a range of questions and natural emotions including, “Why me? Breast cancer is for women not men, isn’t it? I don’t have breasts so why isn’t it called chest cancer in men? How is this going to affect perceptions of my masculinity both personally and extraneously? How am I going to handle the possibility of a reduced libido? Why is all the communication and paraphernalia I receive seemingly only focused on women?”

Life went on as normal within my wonderfully supportive family with lovely overseas holidays, beautiful weddings of two of my three children, and the safe arrival of our first grandchild – life couldn’t get much better!

Then came the news that the reason for my shortness of breath upon exercise was I now had secondary breast cancer in my lungs and five spots within my bones. How could this be, after four years of really good diagnoses?

The initial reaction was one of sadness and bewilderment as we embarked on the journey of communicating the news to family, friends, and work colleagues, and commenced another round of chemotherapy and Tamoxifen in the knowledge that this time the cancer was considered terminal.

Two years life expectancy if I fell within the mean mathematical distribution was how my oncologist described it, but no one can be sure whether it is shorter or longer. There was no other proactive course of action proposed by my supporting medical practitioners besides that mentioned above. It wasn’t until one of my daughters challenged me and suggested I watch the documentary Forks over Knives that I even considered alternatives.

Suddenly I realised that I could influence the outcome of my destiny and do something positive to ensure I had the best chance of falling in the outer reaches of the normal distribution curve for life expectancy.

I researched more and read voraciously and became convinced that one of my most powerful “drug” options was to utilise the one given to me at birth that sat between my ears. Books such as Anticancer: A New Way of Life and The China Study motivated me to make lifestyle changes (in addition to chemotherapy and Tamoxifen) that are definitely supporting the manifestation of significantly improved medical outcomes. I think it is important to challenge traditional perspectives and find something that resonates with you individually.

My wife and I converted to a largely vegan diet under the watchful eye of a reputable dietitian and eliminated all dairy and animal protein (with the exception of seafood). I retired from work which eliminated a great deal of stress. I enjoy regular full body deep tissue massages, and exercise daily. I am in a good space at the moment but certainly under no illusions about the challenges that still await me personally, and my family and friends more broadly – why else would I have already selected the music I want played at my inevitable funeral?

Apart from the physical benefits of weight loss, improved aerobic capacity, and higher levels of energy, I feel better knowing that I am actively taking steps to improve my outcomes. As for the previously mentioned concerns about masculinity, I just learned to get over myself and what others might think and now just live in the moment.

I find my life now guided by the words immortalised in the abridged version of the Walt Whitman poem highlighted in the movie Dead Poet’s Society: “Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring, Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish – What good amid these, O me, O life?”

Answer: that you are here – that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?

Robert, NSW

Issue 72
Spring 2015