I work in the Security/Safety department at Henry Schein Distribution Center in Indianapolis Indiana. I am a 59 year old male and have been married to my wife Wanda for 38 years. She is a special person. We have 2 sons, a daughter in law and 4 beautiful grandchildren. I guess we would be considered a normal family but the challenges we were given last March were less than normal.
March 6, 2010, I went to the emergency room with severe pain on my right side. Several years ago I was diagnosed with gall stones so I was sure (being the doctor that I am) I would receive something for pain and everything would be fine. After several tests the doctor informed me, what I was already aware of, my gall bladder was bad. He stated my gall bladder would need to be removed but he would still like to do a CT scan to see how bad it was. I didn’t know that the CT scan was going to save my life.
After the scan was reviewed the doctor came back to my room and informed me that my gall bladder was bad but they had also noticed a large mass in my left breast. I don’t believe at that time I was thinking cancer. The doctor scheduled an ultra sound of my left breast 2 days later. Now this is where my male brain started working. I was told to go to the “Women’s Center.” I didn’t like the sound of “The Women’s Center” but my wife said if she is with me everyone will think it is her to be seen.
When we arrived the receptionist hands me a form to fill out. The only question on the form that pertained to a man was my name. Then I’m told I will need a mammogram. I asked the technician “Are you serious?” She was and it wasn’t pleasant. Mammograms are bad enough for women but God did not design men for the mammogram. Then a doctor came in and said she would like to do the ultra sound herself. She found the mass and asked when would be a good time to schedule a biopsy. I said right now, because by this time I’m getting nervous, so she proceeded. She took several samples and said she would have the results by Friday. I told her as soon as she gets the results to send them to my family doctor and have him call me immediately.
Thursday of that same week I received the call. Now, being in the security field for 26 years and serving in the United States Army in 1970, I have always trained to be prepared and ready for the unexpected. What I was about to hear was the unexpected. My family doctor said “Darrell, I didn’t want to tell you this on the phone but you said you wanted to know immediately. It’s breast cancer.” I wasn’t prepared for that. To be honest, I don’t remember the drive home from work. When my wife got home I told her the news. After many tears and prayers we started researching the internet for surgeons that specialize in breast cancer. We found a surgeon that had specialized in breast cancer for 24 years. We were able to get an appointment two days later. She was very caring and talked with us for over an hour explaining the procedure. She had a team of three other surgeons and two oncologists that would be assisting her. March 31st I had a 6 hour surgery to remove my left breast and woke up to receive some great news, they got all the cancer! The doctors told me they removed my gall bladder and the cancer. They also removed 2 lymph nodes and tested them in the operating room. The lymph nodes tested okay but they would still send them to the lab to make sure. Two days later I’m hit with the news that one of the lymph nodes had cancer in it so I would need another surgery to remove another row of lymph nodes.
The ups and downs of this journey were more than I was expecting. I spent ten days in the hospital. The next surgery was successful and after four rounds of chemo I am now cancer free. Don’t get me wrong. I still think about it every day and in the back of my mind I think about the cancer returning. But, this story is not all gloom. I have tried to stay positive during this whole process. During my entire career I have always tried to start the day with a positive attitude. I take my job very serious and believe a smile and “Good Morning” helps build a positive relationship between employees and security. It seems to set the tone for how the day is going to go. Occasionally I throw in a “Welcome to Henry Schein” and some think I’m training for my next career as a Wal-Mart greeter.
Good things have come out of this experience and I’m sure more will come. Each morning when I step out of the shower I see this ugly scar from the center of my chest, where my breast was, to my back. It reminds me of my journey and how fragile life is. I can live with that scar on my chest but wouldn’t be able to live with the scar on my conscience knowing I had a chance to tell men about breast cancer and didn’t.
My family and I are now involved with Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. Last April while I was recovering from my surgeries both our sons ran the 5K in Indianapolis in my honor. In October we were able to go, as a family, to the Race in Terre Haute, Indiana. Our sons, daughter in law, and our 6 year old granddaughter ran the 5K. My wife and the other 3 grandchildren walked the mile. This is not just a woman disease, or a man disease. It affects the entire family. My family has been my best support. Men, breast cancer is serious. We don’t think breast cancer can happen to us but it can. It’s not as common for men but it can happen. The reason men die from breast cancer is because they think it can’t happen to them and they ignore the signs. Also don’t be embarrassed to talk to your doctor about breast cancer. I think awareness and early detection is the key. I enjoy speaking about my experience and do every chance I get.