Emotional Impact and Reactions to Diagnosis and Treatment

My diagnosis of breast cancer was extremely difficult to accept especially as a male with what typically affects women in 99% of all breast cancer cases.  Where did this come from?  Why me, having no known male breast cancer in my family?  This shocking diagnosis left me with way too many questions in a world where I had so little knowledge.  Having lost my father at the relatively young age of 64 to prostate cancer I truly thought my days were numbered as my diagnosis hit me at age 60.  

Many emotions came into play as my journey began to unfold. One day I am a healthy man that took care of myself and living a great life only to learn the next day I’m told I have breast cancer.  I now had to tell my wife and two sons of my diagnosis.  The next step was to meet with a variety of doctors all of which were specialists that I hoped I would never have to associate with in my lifetime; an oncologist, radiologist, and a surgeon.  I met with all three doctors the same day to set up my plan of attack to rid myself of breast cancer. I also was assigned a nurse navigator who proved to be invaluable.  My oncologist informed me that my treatment would be similar to how women are treated with breast cancer as there is little data known about male breast cancer due to its rarity. He explained the various risk factors and his recommendation was for me to undergo a mastectomy followed by aggressive chemotherapy.   Next I met with my radiologist who advised me that the protocol would include some form of radiation.  Last I met with the surgeon who described what the mastectomy would entail. Not surprising, my emotional side was beginning to affect my thinking.  I kept telling myself that I would beat this invasion of cancer but to be honest I always had the feeling that it may kill me.

During the meeting with my oncologist he asked me questions about family history of cancer and I informed him that there were many different cancers within my family.   He then asked if I was Jewish and of Ashkenazi decent.   As I was, he highly recommended that I be tested for the BRCA1/2 genes.   I agreed and a few weeks later I learned I carried a BRCA2 genemutation.   The next step was to meet with a genetics counselor to determine if the mutation came from my mother or father’s side of the family.  We learned it was on my father’s side so the next step was to inform other family and cousins.

I had my mastectomy and learned the cancer had spread to a nearby lymph node.  My oncologist encouraged me to have another procedure to determine if other lymph nodes were cancerous and finally a bit of good news, all were clear.  This news was the first positive emotional impact I had since my diagnosis, however it was a trying time for me waiting for the results and I found it difficult to remain optimistic.

I began my first regimen of chemotherapy shortly after the surgeries and this is when my emotions began to outwardly take its toll.  After the second week when I really began to feel the effects of the chemo drugs and began to lose my hair I found it difficult to control my emotions.  I would be watching a movie comedy on television and during a funny scene; I would tear up and find myself in a deep emotional state.  If my wife happened to be in the room I would often leave the room as I didn’t want her to see me in this way that may alarm her.  The next week just prior to my chemo I met with my oncologist to discuss my emotional feelings.  After sharing my thoughts with him he felt the need to ask if I had any suicidal thoughts.  I assured him I had none and reminded him if I did, I wouldn’t be here waiting to get my next chemo treatment.  He then informed me that everyone handles their cancer diagnosis differently and assured me that my emotional state was not unusual.  He then put everything into perspective by telling me what I had just gone through since my diagnosis.  He began by telling me one day I’m a healthy 60 year old man and the next day I’m told I have breast cancer.  Then it was meeting with various doctors telling me I would have a mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation.  I then learn I carry a BRCA2genetic mutation and that my son’s, siblings, and members of my father’s side of the family all have a 50% chance of carrying the mutation.  His perspective made many things clear to me and was able to set my mind at ease. 

Going forward I wasn’t always able to control my emotions but at least I now had an understanding as to why I was having these feelings.  One thing I enjoyed most during these difficult days was to play guitar. I have played for many years and always found it therapeutic.  In the past if I came home from work after a rough day, I would bring out the guitar and after an hour, I felt rejuvenated.  Unfortunately after a month of chemo, I began to lose the callouses on my fingers necessary to play guitar. This became challenging for me as having the ability to enjoy playing guitar and its ability to temporarily take my mind off my cancer provided some pleasure during my day. However, I was able to find a product that you brushed on providing temporary callouses.  Not as good as the real thing but still provided the therapy necessary.

This is probably the most difficult blog post I have written as I am openly talking about many inner feelings and emotions dealing with my cancer diagnosis.  I feel it is necessary to share this because as I have discovered it affects many individuals coping with their cancer journey and I continue to try to bring awareness through my blogs in an effort to help others learn about the emotional side that they may not always hear from their medical team. 

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