Stories of Hope
Male Breast Cancer Survivor Vouches for Early Detection
Article date: January 22, 2002
Get check-ups. They're worth their weight in gold.
Credits Catching It Early with Saving His Life
In early September 1998, a former American Cancer Society (ACS) chapter treasurer discovered a breast lump while taking a shower. For a woman, this would not be an unusual scenario. But this was Jimmy Roan, an Ohio bank trust officer and — a man.
"It just dawned on me that there was something there which shouldn’t have been there," he said. He performed a breast self-examination, and found what he called "a marble-sized lump."
Roan, who is married with grandchildren, said he immediately thought 'cancer.' "Just the thought was frightening."
"I stood in the bathroom, somewhat shocked and not knowing what my next step should be," he said. "I had two problems, how to get this checked out and how to keep my wife from knowing about this until I knew more."
"I went to work, called my family doctor and got an appointment for the next day," he said. "The doctor confirmed there was a tumor, but cautioned that I shouldn't jump to conclusions."
Roan said the doctor also told him that breast cancer in men was rare, and that the statistics were in his favor. The doctor set a mammogram appointment for him at the local hospital.
Entering A New World
"This was my introduction to some of the problems men with breast cancer run into," said Roan. "At the hospital, I had to go through a door marked 'women only' to get to the mammography area. I got some really odd stares when I walked through that room!"
The mammogram showed a tumor a little more than 2cm in size. Roan didn't want to needlessly worry his wife. But, he said, when you've been married forever, your wife is going to pick up on anything unusual.
"At this point, I had to tell her what was going on because I expected either a doctor’s office or the hospital to call about either an appointment or with some instructions," he said. "I couldn't keep it a secret any longer. The most difficult thing I had to do with regard to this cancer thing was tell my wife."
Together, they weathered the days ahead. From the time he discovered the lump, to his tests and diagnosis, he was busy, going to work as usual and keeping doctor appointments. Having something to do every day helped, he said.
"After the initial shock, and it was a shock, I felt, 'it's all out of my hands, I'll do what I can do,'" he said. "My wife was scared stiff, although she tried to put the best face on it."
A few days later, the pathologist determined the tumor was malignant. It appeared to be completely encapsulated. He said the surgeon told him treatment for male and female breast cancer was the same, because the medical world did not have enough separate statistics on men with breast cancer to develop a different treatment.
"I never expected to be a candidate for a mastectomy," said Roan, "but this was the recommended treatment so I agreed to proceed." Both Roan's mother and one of his nieces had breast cancer, and like him, all in the left breast.
His surgery was done late in the afternoon on Oct. 19, 1998.
"I didn't feel any pain from the mastectomy," he said. "Something must be wrong with my nerves." Roan said he did have some numbness in the area.
"No pain, never felt weak or sick, didn't lose my hair — what little I have now — never took an aspirin," he said. "The nurses thought I was just keeping a stiff upper lip and enduring the pain — but I didn't have any."
The 34 lymph nodes removed during surgery were cancer-free. Roan said this calmed his wife tremendously. Though there was no evidence that the cancer had spread, he had a bone scan.
He also had chemotherapy for six months and radiation treatment five days a week for six weeks.
"The worst reaction to chemotherapy was that I didn't sleep at all the first night after a treatment and only slept a little the second night," he said. "But, after the second day my sleeping returned to normal."
"I also occasionally had an incredibly red face, usually for the second and third days following a chemotherapy treatment," Roan said. "I was beginning to get what looked like a sunburn (from the radiation treatments) but the treatments were stopped before this became a problem."
Treatment Begins a New Routine
"My routine was to get up at 4:30 a.m., drive to the clinic (about an hour and fifteen minutes), and arrive for radiation treatment before 7 a.m.," he said.
"Needless to say, my life consisted of going to work, eating an evening meal, going to bed at a ridiculously early hour, and starting the morning routine again," he said. "There wasn’t any time for anything else."
"The only problem I had involved an infection in one finger," Roan said. "During the period in the treatment cycle when my white (blood) cell count was at the lowest point, it was spreading up my arm at a rapid rate." Antibiotics kept this under control, he said.
He worked throughout the 10 months of treatment, but missed six weeks of work because of the mastectomy. In June 1999, he finished his chemotherapy and radiation therapy treatments and began taking tamoxifen every day. He'll do this for five years.
"It never bothered me to talk about (having breast cancer)" he said, "although it seemed to bother a lot of other people. I guess they considered it a delicate matter. But you can get cancer anywhere, and that's where mine was."
Survivor's Experience Changes Doctor's Procedure
"All things considered, I feel incredibly lucky that I found it. Since I've had this," he said, "my family doctor checks men. His procedure has changed."
"Don't expect the worst when you have to have cancer treatment," Roan said. "I don't recommend the experience, if it can be avoided. But, if you detect cancer early, your chances of whipping it are excellent. If you find it late, your chances of dying are excellent."
Roan lost his father, and recently, a brother to lung cancer. Both were heavy smokers and neither got check ups, he said.
"Get check-ups," Roan said. "They're worth their weight in gold."