Receiving news that you have contracted a life-threatening disease is an experience most of us hope will never occur. Most often normal, busy everyday activities put the possibility of suffering such an experience way back in our minds, relegating the concern to the “I’ll deal with that when I’m older and more likely to be a victim of such news.”
A projected 1.6 million Americans will be diagnosed with cancer this year, each one experiencing that moment of shock and disbelief long put away in the back of the mind. But while most of us are well aware of the risk of cancer diagnosis as we progress in age, the news that it can actual happen to us usually comes with a significant dose of disbelief and surprise, and when it comes at an early, usually healthier period in life, the news can be even more emotionally difficult to negotiate.
Matt Sheads, a healthy thirty something insurance executive in a famous small town in Pennsylvania lived an active, healthy lifestyle, performing numerous marathons, playing ice hockey and coaching local youth sports programs. His active, health conscious approach to life statistically identified him as one among many like him who would most likely NOT experience the news that he had a rare (for men) breast cancer. Breast cancer in men is rare with less than one percent of cancer cases of the disease developing in a thousand men. Matt soon learned that breast cancer in men is usually detected as a hard lump located underneath the nipple and areola. Unlike women, men don’t immediately associate the discovery with breast cancer and often delay further investigation and treatment.
“When you are diagnosed with cancer, it all sets in”, says Matt.” I have an 8-year-old son and I was very scared of the possibility of not seeing him graduate from school. It was a huge shock to me, I didn’t even know men got breast cancer. Oh, my gosh, how can it happen to me? I was born and raised in Gettysburg and love the small-town feel.” It was through the local Gettysburg Cancer Center that Matt was referred to nearby Washington D.C. for treatment of his rare disease. A large University hospital, Medstar Georgetown Hospital has the small town, individualized philosophy when it comes to cancer treatment. “I felt very welcome, that I was a part of a family, I felt like I was in my home town” recounts Matt.
After surgery and treatment, the prognosis for Matt is good. His disease is in remission and requires only annual visits and evaluations. He is back to doing the things he loves; coaching his son in sports, playing hockey, running and looking forward to being at his son’s graduation. His advice to other men, “If you find a problem, you find an issue, don’t self-diagnose… go find a specialist… and have a conversation with them.” Don’t delay getting the care you need to live a long life.