Peter’s Story of Breast Cancer

Peter’s Story of Breast Cancer: Awareness is the Key. Peter believes that promotion of breast cancer should be about women and men helping each other My story is dedicated to my wife Cathy who has supported me from the day of my first test.I have been, to say the least, on a very strange and wonderful journey since I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) 19 years ago. And you are probably asking yourself why I say wonderful, considering post-traumatic stress is a horrible psychological injury…

I was numb. That is the only word I can think of to describe how I felt about being told that I had breast cancer. I felt that I was just handed a death sentence when my doctor informed me that the small lump in my chest was cancer. Men don’t get breast cancer, women do. At least that’s what I thought, until I was told that I had that dreaded disease on July 14, 2011, a date I will never forget as long as I live.

My story starts one evening in early May 2011 as I was watching TV with my wife Cathy. I was scratching an itch on my left breast, just above the nipple and as I scratched the area I felt a small lump. It felt odd, but I really wasn’t too concerned. But at the insistence of Cathy, I contacted my doctor the next morning. I met my doctor on May 13. She examined the area and told me it was probably nothing, but that I would have to go for some tests. She told me that only roughly one per cent of breast cancer cases are men. With that, I told myself I was going to be OK; I was certain I would be in the 99 per cent category.

Over the next few weeks I underwent an ultrasound, a mammogram and a biopsy. On July 14 my doctor told me what I didn’t want to hear: that the biopsy results had shown the tumour to be malignant (an Infiltrating Ductal Carcinoma). Never, beginning at that moment, had I felt so frightened. As a male, so traditionally guarded with my feelings, I looked desperately around the examining room, wondering what to do with the waves of panic and weakness that swept over me. I was alone. I felt alone in not knowing anyone, any female, let alone any male, who had breast cancer. As I struggled to keep a grip on these feelings, my doctor told me that she was going to refer me to the Women’s Breast Health Centre at the Civic Hospital.

On Sept. 1, I had a complete mastectomy and sentinel lymph node removal. Then came another struggle: the stress of waiting. After two seemingly endless weeks, I was told even more news that I wanted to shout away: that the cancer had gone into the sentinel lymph node. This meant I had to have another operation, called an Axillary Lymph Node Dissection, which was performed on Oct.17. I was an Ottawa Police officer for 25 years and faced many life threatening situations throughout my career. I had dealt with those the best way I could. They had come and gone, leaving their scars, and after many years in battle I became severely disabled with PTSD. With help, I learned to manage it. I had come out of the darkness, but now it seemed I was entering an even darker and stranger world of phantoms, deadly cells that played a dreadful game of hide-and-seek with the body. Unlike dealing with criminals on the streets, I was not sure how I was going to deal with this deadly, elusive disease.

On Oct. 31 I was informed by my surgeon that in the second operation she had removed approximately 20 lymph nodes. Two of the nodes had been completely affected, but one only had a microscopic trace of the cancer. The prognosis was good. I was referred to the cancer centre for treatment. My loving wife Cathy, from the very beginning, has been a wonderful, strong support. She has attended every appointment with me, every test that I had to take and both surgeries. She has given me strength to carry on. Is it easy for her? It is often said that, for those who are not living with the disease and are caring for a loved one, the pain is of a different vein — and the vein is equally deep. I know it has not been easy for her and I love her dearly for helping me through this trying time in my life.

I have also been blessed with the support of women who have had breast cancer and are survivors, as well as women who are now living with the disease and are going through treatment and support from friends and from strangers. Additional support has come from the wonderful staff at the Women’s Breast Health Centre at the Civic Campus of the Ottawa Hospital. I am also in a breast cancer support group at the Health Centre. There are eight to 10 women in the group — and me, the only male. I was concerned about being accepted in the group but my fears were unfounded as I was accepted from the first meeting.

How much did I concern myself about a distant, life threatening disease like breast cancer? I was never concerned as I did not know I could fall prey to this horrible disease. I contributed when asked to breast cancer research and awareness drives, and thought nothing of doing self-exams. “Only one per cent,” I recall the doctor reassuring me. Yet, I was that one per cent. I thought, “Where is the public awareness for men about breast cancer?” For me, Peter Platt, one per cent has become a large statistic. Not only do I have a greater appreciation for breast cancer as a whole for both sexes, but also I now find myself thinking of the simple steps we can take to prevent so many “small statistics” from doing us harm.

Education – greater public awareness of course, is the key, whether it is on the importance of self-breast exams, regular checkups, or maintaining healthy lifestyles. I started my chemotherapy on Nov. 18 at the Cancer Centre in Ottawa and I was not too sure what to expect. I found the nurses were very caring and truly dedicated to their patients and I left feeling very positive about the whole experience. The past 12 months have dramatically changed my life.

My outlook on life is truly much more positive than it has been in many years and it has taken cancer to make this happen. That, and the support of many people that I know and many people that I have become friends with over the past 12 months. Many people do not know that men can get breast cancer. In fact, about one per cent of breast cancer cases are in men. More women are diagnosed with and die of breast cancer than men do. But one death is one too many no matter who dies. Men with breast cancer have a higher mortality rate than women. This may be because they leave it too long to before having a lump or other breast symptoms checked out as they are too embarrassed to see a doctor.

Earlier detection saves lives, for women and men. The Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation encourages men, like women, to be breast aware! Please visit the Foundation’s website for information about male breast cancer. Promotion of breast cancer and fundraising should be about women and men helping each other to stay alive. Please help each other this year in the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation CIBC Run for the Cure and run or walk side by side and spread the word that we, women and men are here for each other. I know I will be there for all of you, woman or man, and I want you all to survive. I have breast cancer and I want to survive just as much as do you all who have this terrible disease.

Take care everyone.

Peter Platt