It was more than two years ago when the doctor told us I have metastatic Prostate Cancer…which is doctor-lingo for my cancer had come back. After months of diagnostic tests, we discussed my treatment options, and agreed on a hormone suppression protocol. He explained that testosterone “feeds” the cancer, so the goal would be to stop my body’s production of the hormone in hopes of slowing the cancer's growth. And he told me that the side effects would be like I was going through menopause…magnified (Boy, was that an understatement!)
So, now that his predictions have come true, I can personally (and thermostatically) identify with my women-friends who are, well, you know…of a certain age.
I’ve been on the treatment now for about two years, and according to my doctor, we are “managing” the cancer. I've experience many negative side effects of the treatment medications, but recently a new one has…uhmm…arisen. Because my body is no longer producing testosterone, my breasts have increased slightly.(Does adding the word “slightly” help at all in maintaining my masculinity? ) There’s a convoluted medical term for it (gynecomastia), but that’s not the point. I have breasts. Lately, they’ve gotten extremely sore, sensitive to touch and swollen. For that reason, the Oncologist wanted to consult another Specialist.
He wanted me to have...a mammogram.
Inside, I repeated my recurring mantra: Cancer sucks.
Aloud, I reminded myself: God is big enough!
The doctor assured me that it wouldn’t be strange; he had sent other male patients there. It’s in the same medical complex as the Cancer Center, so I assumed it would just be a room with the necessary equipment, like where I’d gone for x-rays, radiation, MRIs, bone scans, etc.
But when we arrived, there was the sign proclaiming to all who enter: Women’s Wellness Clinic. And inside was...women. They gave me a pen with a huge frilly flower on the end to fill out my intake paperwork. It looked more like bridesmaid's bouquet.
Yeah, this is gonna be fun.
Honestly, I was incredibly nervous on the way to the appointment, mostly about having a mammogram. (I have breasts?) I consoled myself with the fact that at least I wouldn’t be the only man in the room, since my partner insisted on going with me. 'Cause two men, sitting together in a women’s clinic is not the least bit strange! We did a few looks (glares?) in the waiting room, but that may be because I giggled out loud when I read one of the questions on the registration form: Is there ANY chance you may be pregnant?
But in addition to my apprehension, these kinds of incident—a new pain/symptom, seeing a different specialist, more tests, another biopsy, waiting on results—bring up all the morbid “what if” questions and dark, fearful thoughts I’m usually able to keep suppressed.
What if the cancer is no longer "managed?"
What if I we have to do chemo?
What if the prognosis is bad?
What if there's no more time?
God is big enough!
I'm not whining. I know that I’m not the only man to ever have a mammogram, and I'm not applying to be a Traveling Pants member, or a back-up singer for Bette Midler. And they aren't big enough to get me hired at Hooters.
I know this is serious, and many men are not as fortunate as I was. After the procedure, the wonderfully caring doctor discussed with me the reality of men who do get breast cancer.
The tests didn’t find anything, beyond the swelling and soreness. The staff at the clinic were amazing, and so attentive and compassionate. My breast are more painful now, after being crushed by the giant tortuous vice. One of my dearest friends told me that if men had to have mammograms on a regular basis, the technology would have changed years ago!
The fact that I have breasts will take time for me to process. I reckon a few of my Trans friends would welcome these new additions, but for me, they are a pain in the...nipples. (I'm fairly certain Orajel never intended their product to be used...there.) Swimsuit season will require much more thought in the future, I'd imagine. And this new reality will surely necessitate intense therapy about my already damaged body image.
As always during these various incidents along my cancer journey, I try to look for lessons to be learned. The main one for me this time is: cancer is no respecter of persons. Or gender. Cancer may damage and reshape us physically, but the disease does not define us. Cancer can strip away at our dignity, but we choose how we respond.
Also, I got to experience something few men have to endure. Now, along with my hot flashes, I have another area where I can now identify with the amazing, brave women in my life. And there might come a day when I'm out in public, I'll notice someone staring at my chest. At that point, I will proudly respond: "Hey, fella. My eyes are up here?"