I think it is human nature to remember a day perfectly when something unforgettable happens. Some of us may recall exactly where we were and what we were doing during the moon landing (yes, I’m that old!), or more recently when 9/11 happened. Good or bad, momentous occasions stay with us forever. I am Kathy Giller, and the day my husband, Lee, walked into the house to tell us that he had breast cancer will always be etched in my memory. Those are life-altering words for anyone to hear, but to hear them from a man was truly unexpected.
We had known that men could get breast cancer, yet it still never occurred to us that the small lump Lee felt was anything more than a cyst. And because breast cancer did not enter our minds, Lee ignored the lump for nearly six months before finally seeing a doctor. My otherwise healthy and fit husband was diagnosed at the young age of 48 with Stage II breast cancer. Lee underwent a mastectomy, had 17 lymph nodes removed, endured four months of chemotherapy, and six weeks of radiation.
After nearly seven years of being declared cancer-free (no evidence of active disease), Lee had a recurrence. He was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer. It had metastasized to his liver, lungs and bones. For the second time of his life, Lee was fighting to survive. He participated in many clinical trials, some with amazing results. They gave us time. Lee lived almost five years in spite of being told his life expectancy would only be around 26 months.
From the moment Lee was first diagnosed in 2005 until his death in 2017, Lee lived with breast cancer as the epitome of courage, grace and optimism. Even during his worst days of treatment, he never complained or asked, “why me?” In fact, he would say, “why not me?” In spite of some people who would actually snicker upon learning that Lee had breast cancer, he was never embarrassed by being diagnosed with what so many people still consider to be only a woman’s disease. This is what inspired us to take this dark chapter and turn it into something meaningful.
Lee dedicated his life to spreading the important message that breast cancer does not discriminate. The best I can do now is to honor his life by continuing our work to educate people about male breast cancer. I am so grateful to be partnering with Susan G. Komen on the creation of “The Lee Giller Male Breast Cancer Fund” that focuses on educating people about the risks men also face.
Komen’s recent “Mission Moment – Breast Cancer in Men” continued this effort. The Mission Moment was a panel discussion open to all, discussing breast cancer in men and featured a few of us who have been touched personally by this disease. If you missed it, I encourage you to watch the Mission Moment here:
Losing Lee has been devastating for me and our family, but if we can pay it forward by helping others through this breast cancer journey, Lee’s life and light will continue to shine on.