Most people do not think about men having breast cancer, but it is more common than you think.
Santa Gordon Mahathey was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014.
He said his wife, Ellen, was concerned about his left breast. He had an inverted nipple and she was worried about it. The couple go to the same physician and he asked about it in January 2013. The doctor felt around it and asked some questions about the pain, but it was nothing too concerning.
In September 2013, he felt a lump right above the areola and an irritation below it, but it was not visible. He had his wife feel it and they thought nothing of it really. Their thought was it was an ingrown hair or an irritated oil gland.
In the back of his mind, he thought something might be wrong. He said he is like most men and he did not want to go to the doctor. His fear was they would want to do chemo and radiation or that it really would just be an ingrown hair.
He decided to wait to go to the doctor until his next physical which was in February 2014. His appointment was on February 5 and his doctor sent him to the Women’s Breast Center the next day, where he had a mammogram, a sonogram and a biopsy all before 11 a.m. that morning.
When they did the mammogram, they followed it up with a sonogram because they saw something. He went back and sat down in the waiting area. They called him back again and told him that he needed to have a biopsy. He was not used to all of that attention, he said.
The person doing the biopsy explained that he would hear a loud pop and to not be frightened. It sounded similar to a gun going off. They put some medication on his skin to numb it some and he explained that it burned. The nurse rubbed his arm and he knew that she was a distraction. He heard the pop and it was over, but it was not really. They had to do it one more time. She made another hole on another side. They sent the samples off.
On Friday, February 7, Gordon was off work and he received the three words you never want to hear, “you have cancer.”
He worked at SCI and Ellen was at work at Redstone Arsenal. She was adamant that she wanted to know exactly what they said. When they did the biopsy, he wrote her number down and told them to call her because she wanted to know the results immediately.
She found out while she was at work and her co-workers brought her home. She told Gordon that he had cancer. He said they would work it out and they did.
The only people they told at first were their immediate family. Gordon spends a lot of time on social medial. On Sunday, he received a lot of messages on Facebook that showed people’s condolences once they found out he had cancer.
He did not put anything out there, but evidently someone they told did. He told his wife that he had to make a statement, to he let his friends on Facebook know that it was breast cancer and not prostate or any other cancer. He did not know at the stage at the time he posted it on Facebook, but he knew he did not have to have radiation.
Gordon is a Santa's helper during the holidays, donning the red suit and helping spread holiday cheer.
He said the next thing he knew, he had Santa’ all over the world talking to him. Each one wanted to know how he found it and he wrote about finding it himself because of the lump. He let people on Facebook know that if he was not able to keep them updated, his daughter would.
He was scheduled for surgery the following Thursday, which was February 13. There was a lot of snow on that day. They were able to get to his daughter’s house. He was grateful for his wife and daughter’s help. He said his family did a heck of a job with him. They lined up the surgeon and the oncologist.
The surgeon looked at the results of the biopsy and told Gordon that he would probably need to remove his left breast and some lymph nodes.
“I told the doctor, that’s okay because I don’t use it anyway,” Gordon said. “You have to have some humor in it.”
The doctor asked when he would like to have the surgery and he told him that day. The doctor did not perform surgery on those days. He only did it on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Gordon asked for Tuesday and the doctor was packed, but he could do it the following Thursday.
He was given some special soap to wash with and had to have a special gold cream. He had to be wrapped in plastic wrap.
“They made me a sandwich,” he joked.
The couple got ready and at 6 a.m. he was awake and had taken a shower. Everything was set for 10 a.m. At the time they were going to do the radioactive dye to find out if it had metastasized. He was wrapped up with his special cream at 8 a.m. The doctor’s office called and postponed the surgery for two hours because the dye comes from Birmingham. With the snow, they were not able to make it there on time.
They had to cut his plastic wrap off and redo it later. He went into the office around 11 a.m. and they did the injection about noon. The dye had to be in the body for about two hours. After that, all he knew was he was coming home.
Ellen said it was scary. He had all kinds of drain tubes and a bag that was attached to him. She was concerned about them sending him home. She was afraid she would not know what to do, but she explained that it all worked out well. He had an “apron” as he called it that had the pumps and drains. He had to wear that for about three weeks.
The following week he had to see the surgeon. He was concerned about one of the tubes hurting when it was going to be removed. He thought the tube was smaller than it actually was. The nurse showed him the tube went around his breast and stopped on the other side. It made a shape similar to an upside-down U.
He saved a pain pill for the day they were going to take the tube out. He took it before he went to the doctor. He said he felt the cut of the stitches. The nurse asked him what was wrong with him because he was turning white. He told her that he was waiting on her to pull the tube out and she told him that it had already been removed. He did not even feel it coming out.
Gordon had Stage 1 cancer with a mass of 1.8 centimeters. His cancer was Invasive Ductal Carcinoma (IDC).
“That is just a fancy name for breast cancer,” he said.
He went and saw the oncologist. The surgeon and oncologist both agreed no radiation was needed. His oncologist was Dr. John Waples and his surgeon was Dr. Richard Richardson. He said Waples explained that there are three areas they look at when dealing with cancer. There is a white, a gray and a black. The black area you are required to have chemo, the gray area could be divided in half. If you are on the lighter side, you do not but if you are on the darker side you do. He was on the lighter side of gray.
He was 85 percent cancer free. He was told if he had chemo, it would be six months of treatments. At the time this was April, which meant the treatments would run past September. He was afraid that he would lose all of his white hair and he could not disappoint the children at Christmas.
He would have only gained three percent more assurance if he underwent chemo. He asked the doctor if he would do it for the three percent and the doctor told him no. So Gordon made the decision not to do it either. The doctor put him on Tamoxifen. It is the same medication they put women on when they have breast cancer.
The doctor told him once he took the Tamoxifen, then he would not be able to do chemo. He told him to write the prescription and he would start taking the medication. He described Tamoxifen as a low dose chemotherapy pill. It causes a little bit of hair loss, but not near what would ruin Santa's image.
“It does have some bad side effects,” he said. “I had hot flashes and your taste buds are gone. It tastes like I have metal or blood in my mouth all the time.”
He said another side effect was fatigue. He would sleep eight hours, wake up to eat and then go right back to bed. He cannot do much with his left arm. He had to wear a necklace and a bracelet both because the lymph nodes came from his left side. He cannot have blood pressure taken or shots in the left side of his body. He has to wear a compression sleeve when he travels on planes and he now has a pacemaker.
He returned to work the week after surgery. He had the tubes and everything hanging off of him. He is not afraid to share his story. He said there is no reason in hiding it. The more people that know about it, the better off they will be.
Gordon belongs to Bosom Buddies in Huntsville at the Clearview Cancer Institute. There is only one other man who is a part of the support group. He explained that this man was the perfect specimen of health. He was playing football with his friend and got hurt. He went to the doctor the following week and he found out that he had cancer. He is now in his early 30s.
The one thing about catching it early is that it does not spread as far, Gordon said. He and his wife have often that men tend to not worry about their health as much as they should. They gave an example of a man who waited and waited because he did not want to go to the doctor. He found out that he has Stage 4 breast cancer and it had spread to his spine. They are having to take care of the cancer in his spine before they can take care of his breasts.
Ellen said it is better to do something about it early as opposed to waiting. You do not want to put it off and cause more damage to yourself than is necessary.
Gordon said when he went to get his mammogram, he had to stand on his tiptoes. He wondered why they did not lower it down for him. He knew that it could be moved up and down. He asked why they did not just make it level.
The worst part of the whole thing for him was when they injected the radioactive dye. The cream that he had to have on his skin did not do much to help the pain of when the dye was injected. He said they had to inject the dye all the way around the breast and that was the most painful part of the whole ordeal. He explained that it burned. The gold cream was supposed to numb it, but it did not do a good job.
He was speaking with a lady who was about to have surgery and she was extremely nervous about the actual procedure and he explained the worst part for him was the dye. Another lady who had already had the surgery agreed with him and that put the one having surgery at ease.
He remembered back to when he had surgery and the anesthesiologist came into the room and walked back out of the room. He did not know it was Gordon that was having surgery because Gordon was the first male breast cancer patient the anesthesiologist had ever seen.
He wants to get the word of early detection out for breast cancer. He said he would gladly speak to anyone who wanted to hear from him.
Right after his surgery, Gordon had a genetics test done. The Clearview Cancer Institute recommended that he have it done. Because there was no history of breast cancer in his family, the test may pinpoint where it came from. The first test only checked for two things: BRAC1 and BRAC2. Those came back negative.
About five months ago, he had another test done. This test was a larger number of markers. He believes it is about 45, but he is not sure if that is right or not. He had this test done at no cost and the results showed one maker that was inconclusive. It dealt with the prostate.
The results they got back from the tests do not show a reason for him having breast cancer. He said it shows that you do not have to have any markers or family history to get cancer.
Gordon has an x-ray done once a year because he was a heavy smoker. He came off the cancer medication in March of this year. He has been cancer free for five and a half years. The hot flashes are not as bad, but they are still there. The medication can be in your system for up to a year.
He was told that “God gave it to him for a reason” and he believes that is true. He is outspoken and will gladly tell anyone his story.
Gordon said the doctors have said about 2,600 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year while there will be 100,000 women diagnosed.
From this whole experience, Gordon would like for men and women to know that it is important to do the monthly self-breast exams. He has to have a mammogram every year as well and he recommends that you should have the yearly done as well.
The couple have been married 49 years this month and Gordon says he could not have done it without his Mrs. Claus.
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