Bob is a passionate and brave man with a dazzling sense of humor. Bob is also living with metastatic breast cancer. He and his husband Tony live in Connecticut with their two cats, who they lovingly refer to as ‘Mama’ and ‘Baby’.
A couple of years before being diagnosed in 2012, Bob found a pea size lump in his breast. His primary doctor initially dismissed it as a cyst. However, after returning to the doctor several years later for a different issue, Bob reminded his doctor about the lump, which was now larger, irregularly shaped, and painful to the touch.They sent him for a mammogram and ultrasound the following Friday.
“I get a call Friday from my doctor as Tony and I are walking to the car at Walmart. As we were loading the car, the doctor called and once in the car I got told I have breast cancer. [The doctor] said ‘I’m not going to do a sentinel node biopsy. We are going to have to take the whole breast and all the lymph nodes.’” Tony and I were both sitting there crying in the car during the call. It felt like the doctor’s voice drifted off into the ‘Charlie Brown’ teacher’s voice.”
If Bob had not reminded the doctor of the lump in his breast, it could have been another couple of months or even years before an official diagnosis, at which point the cancer would likely have been at stage 4 – metastatic breast cancer. This is why early detection and self awareness is so important.
Bob started his treatment and had his surgery on June 13th, 2012. “The surgeon gave me a huge checklist of things to do before surgery and follow ups after. I said,”did you folks sleep last
night”. I barely had time to get it organized. We couldn’t help but laugh. They took most of my lymph nodes from my underarms. 14 taken out, 7 tested positive for cancer- stage 3: ER/PR positive or HER2 Negative. The next morning after surgery, I got woken up by a cheif medical
resident and a bunch of medical residents to check my incision. I was very grumpy; as it was about 5am. I remember saying to them: if you take nothing away from our little interaction today, take this: ‘You met a man today who has breast cancer. Men get breast cancer too. If you have someone saying they have a tiny pea sized lump, it’s a clue! So don’t miss it.’ They all agreed.”
“If that saves one person, [all] the aggravation that I went through, I would be a happy man.”
Later, in appointments with his medical oncologist and radiation oncologist, they said they needed to start Bob on “aggressive chemotherapy and generous radiation.” Six rounds of chemo and 18 months later, Bob met with the radiation oncologist to start radiation. “It leaves you with a sunburn-like burn. The first ten rounds, they used a gel patch, almost like a square. They deliver the radiation through that then rotate after 10 visits.” Fast forward to March 1st, 2013, Bob was in remission. They put him on Tamoxifen for 8 years, with a CAT scan every 6 months.
On September 17th, 2020, Bob went for his routine CT scan. “At 11:30, I got a call from my oncologist. I said ‘oh crap.’ He said ‘Bob, I think we need to talk about your CAT scan. Naive me said, what’s to talk about, it’s always normal? He said ‘Well, not anymore.’ They found another mass on my chest wall.”
The doctor sent Bob for a PET scan and a biopsy of his 2nd rib.The new tumor was just outside where the radiation had been. “They found something in my right lung… it’s all a blur.” Bob had officially entered stage 4 with that conversation.
The doctors confirmed it was the same breast cancer he had originally — ER/PR positive and HER2 Negative. He didn’t have lung cancer or bone cancer. It was all the original breast cancer that had spread. Bob is currently on stage 4 treatment regimens. This includes chemotherapy drugs. He gets PET scans every three months to check for progression. Thankfully, Bob’s cancer is stable at the moment.
Bob shared, “I said to my oncologist, ‘I checked my heels for an expiration date, and I didn’t find one on either of them. It’s your job to keep me alive.’ We both chuckled.”
Bob and Tony (and the two cats) are currently planning a move to North Carolina.
When asked about the stigma around breast cancer occurrences in men, Bob shared, “Yes, there is a stigma..Doctors aren’t checking men during their physicals. The likelihood isn’t high, but they could, so they should.”
“Men are supposed to be the strong, bread winners. “Healthy as a horse”. They get a cut, oh I’ll just throw some duct tape on that. When we have breast cancer, we go to women’s centers, we are handed a clipboard asking for our history, Everything is in tones of pink. You get called in and you’re handed a pink gown. It’s just.. Emasculating. When you are sitting in the lobby, the form asks “when was your last period…do you think you may be pregnant?…when was your last pap smear?” All the questions on the form are typically handed to women. You see all these men there with their wives and you get strange looks when they call your name. And then, you don’t want to tell anybody about it.”
“I always say that when I got breast cancer, I had to come out of the closet twice. Once as a gay man, and secondly as a man with a woman’s disease.”
Bob has learned a lot about himself from his cancer journey.
“I think that I’ve become a stronger and more well-rounded person with it. There’s nothing in this world that I really need anymore… My life is sort of complete. I am a stronger person for it. I’ve been invited to my high school twice to talk about having male breast cancer. I’ve had students come up to me and thank me for being so open and sharing so much of myself. They would say “I’m gay too, or “I’m experimenting”, or whatever. I’ve become much more of a public speaker. I get to be vulnerable and be “naked” on stage. I’m not timid about it. I feel much more comfortable in my own skin. I’ve become a good advocate for men with breast cancer. I have a better sense of humor and a positive attitude.”
Bob and Tony married in 2015 even after he received his cancer diagnosis. UBCF has been able to help through our Covid Grant Program. Bob was also a recipient of our timeshare giveaway, where we funded a Powhatan vacation to colonial Williamsburg, VA. Bob has been a joy to get to know over the years and we wish him the best of luck on his journey.