To kick off Breast Cancer Awareness Month, this week’s guest blogger is Darrell Skaggs, a breast cancer survivor from Indiana. Darrell’s story reminds us that breast cancer affects us all and does not discriminate.
I work in the Security/Safety department at a distribution center in Indianapolis, Indiana. I am 63 years old and have been married to my wife Wanda for 41 years. We have two sons, a daughter-in-law and four beautiful grandchildren. I guess we would be considered a “normal family,” but the challenges we were given in March 2010 were less than normal.
On March 6, 2010, I went to the emergency room with severe pain on my right side. Several years before I was diagnosed with gallstones, so I was sure I would receive something for pain and everything would be fine. After several tests the doctor informed me what I was already aware of—that my gallbladder was bad. He stated my gall bladder would need to be removed but he would still like to do a CT scan just to see how bad it was. What I didn’t know was 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 that they had also noticed a large mass in my left breast. The doctor scheduled an ultrasound of my left breast two days later at the “Women’s Center.” (I wasn’t real happy about going to the “Women’s Center”)
When my wife and I arrived at the Women’s Center, I was told I would need a mammogram. I asked the technician, “Are you serious?” 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,” 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 just send them to my family doctor, and have him call me immediately.
Thursday of that same week I received the call. Now, for someone who has been in the security field for 26 years and who served in the United States Army in the 70’s, I have always been 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 that day. When my wife got home, I told her the news. After many tears and prayers we started researching on the Internet for surgeons who specialize in breast cancer. We found a surgeon who 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. On March 31st I had a six 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 gallbladder and the cancer. They also removed two lymph nodes and tested them in the operating room. The lymph nodes tested ok but they would still send them to the lab to make sure. Two days later I was 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 possibility of the cancer returning. But, this story is not all gloom. I have tried to stay positive during this whole process.
Good things have come out of this experience, and I’m sure more will come. Each morning when I step out of the shower and I see this ugly scar on my chest, it reminds me of my journey and how fragile life is. The scar also reminds me that I have to keep telling men about breast cancer.
My family and I are now involved with the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. I have also been an ambassador for Komen. In 2012 and again in 2013, I was chosen to be a “Model of Courage” for Ford Motor Company’s Warriors in Pink. They chose 11 breast cancer survivors (one other male) from all over the United States to help promote breast cancer awareness and raise funds for research. Ford sells Warriors in Pink apparel where 100 percent of all net proceeds go to the fight against breast cancer. The 11 of us modeled the apparel. (And I thought my modeling days were over) We also did a breast cancer documentary. All of this and more can be found at www.fordcares.com. Recently, I started volunteering for The American Cancer Society. When a male is diagnosed with breast cancer anywhere in the United States they can call me if they just need someone to talk to.
This is not just a woman’s disease, or a man’s disease. It affects the entire family. My family has been my best support. Men, breast cancer is serious.
If you are a man impacted by breast cancer, you’re not alone. Call the Cancer Support Helpline at 1-888-793-9355 for support, resources and more. The Helpline is open Monday-Friday 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.