One Man's Breast Cancer Journey

Dave Norlach with his wife Shirley

Dave Norlach of Massachusetts is a 14-year breast cancer survivor. Here is his story, in his own words:

It was a beautiful, blue sky day in May of 1997. I was taking a shower prior to a great day on the golf course. I noticed that the nipple on my right breast was inverted. Never happened before – so I didn’t think too much about it.

Several days later, I was again in the shower and the nipple was still inverted. My curiosity got the best of me and I consulted a medical book. It said that an inverted nipple is one sign of breast cancer. Wel, that didn’t bother me because men don’t get breast cancer. I continued to see the inverted nipple and my wife suggested I see our family GP. She checked me out and said that there was a small pea size lump in my breast tissue. She didn’t seem too concerned but did recommend that I have a mammogram. “A what?” I said. That’s only for women. So I went.

Picture this—here I am at the breast center. The only male in an office full of females. They all looked at me when the technician called my name. I remember the nurse doing the mammograms, telling me to put my breast in between these two plates and then they squeezed what little breast tissue I have to a point where I yelled “OUCH”. Now I know what all you ladies go through. I really wasn’t worried because men don’t get breast cancer, right? The doctor came in and asked if I could hang around for a half hour or so. He wanted to do a biopsy and send it to the hospital for immediate analysis. When the results came back, his first words were: “YOU HAVE CANCER”. WOW!!!!

Within a week I had a modified radical mastectomy. The surgeon felt that he had removed all of the cancer. Due to its location, no radiation was needed. Also, I lucked out on chemo. My oncologist felt that there was no evidence that chemo was needed. So I started swimming every day to loosen up my shoulder and started a five-year program on tamoxifin. I thanked the Lord for being with me and prayed that the cancer would not return. At that time, I felt like a Christian under construction–the Lord wasn’t done with me yet!!

A whole new life was about to start for me, a journey that still continues and grows each year. I am now a 14 year breast cancer survivor. Praise the Lord!!!

The following summer my association with the American Cancer Society began. I got a call from a local ACS volunteer who invited me to attend the Dennis Yarmouth Relay For Life on Cape Cod. I  walked in the Survivor Lap with about 30 other survivors. I did not understand why people on the sidelines were clapping and cheering while we walked by. It just didn’t register. Then my world changed 180 degrees. They lit the luminaria bags and turned out the lights. I stopped dead in my tracks and started to cry. Why am I here? Why was I saved? What does all this mean in my life? I knew right then and there that I had to fight back. I had to do something to stop the terrible devastation cancer does to us and our loved ones. But what????

My business life revolved around sales, sales management, training, and management consulting. Someone in the ACS found out about this and called me to ask if I would like to join the New England Division’s Relay For Life Task Force. This involved being part of a New England-wide group that planned and conducted an annual Summit meeting which trained volunteers on how to successfully conduct local Relay fundraising events. This was the start of a 12-year venture that involved my traveling around the USA conducting trainings for the entire American Cancer Society.  I became a member of the National Leadership Training Team. I have conducted over 75 different types of trainings throughout the U.S..  I also continue to support my local New England events and financially support the ACS. I have found my way to FIGHT BACK!!!!!

NOTE: In 2011, an estimated 230,480 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed among women, and  about 2,140 cases of breast cancer are expected to occur among men, accounting for about 1% of all breast cancers. Approximately 450 men will die from breast cancer this year. Learn more about breast cancer in men