By Rob Fincher.
It is a commonly held belief that men don’t generally share health related emotions and experiences for whatever reasons, so I thought it time to share mine among the Oncology Network fraternity in the hope of engendering further discussion, debate, and increased understanding.
My name is Rob Fincher and I’m a 57year old male who was originally diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010. I underwent a mastectomy followed by rounds of chemotherapy and radiotherapy and after a period of 7 months returned to my work within the Financial Services industry.
Everything seemed to be going well during the following four years, being supported at regular six monthly intervals by check-ups with my Oncologist and Surgeon. These check-ups consisted of the usual array of blood tests, but otherwise remained largely physiological in nature. The drug of choice for ongoing treatment for me at that point in time was Femara.
During this time I experienced a range of questions and natural emotions like;
Why me? Breast cancer is for women not men isn’t it? I don’t have breasts so why isn’t it called Chest cancer in males? How is this going to affect perceptions of my masculinity both personally and extraneously? How am I going to handle the possibility of a reduced libido? Why is all the communication and paraphernalia I receive pink and seemingly only focused on women?
Whilst not all these questions have been resolved life went on as normal within my wonderfully supportive family with lovely overseas holidays, the beautiful weddings of two of my three children, and the safe arrival of our first grand child….life couldn’t get much better!
Some four years later and completely out of left field came the news that the reason for my shortness of breath upon exercise was I now had secondary breast cancer in my lungs and five spots within my bones.
How could this be after four years of really good diagnoses?
The initial reaction was one of sadness and bewilderment as we embarked on the journey of communicating the news to family, friends, and work colleagues, and commenced another round of chemotherapy and Tamoxifen ongoing in the knowledge that this time the cancer was considered terminal.
Two years life expectancy if I fell within the Mean mathematical distribution was how my Oncologist described it, but no one can be sure whether it is shorter or longer. There was no other pro-active course of action proposed by my supporting medical practitioners besides that mentioned above and it wasn’t until one of my daughters challenged me and suggested I watch the documentary titled “Forks over Knives” that I even considered alternatives.
It was as if suddenly someone had “flicked a switch” and I realised that I could influence the outcome of my destiny and do something positive to ensure I had the best chance of falling in the outer reaches of the normal distribution curve for life expectancy.
I researched more and read voraciously and became convinced that one of my most powerful “drug” options was to utilise the one given to me at birth that sat between my ears. Books such as “Anti cancer- a new way of life” and the “China Study” enabled me to take a number of positive steps in my life (in addition to chemotherapy and Tamoxifen) that are definitely supporting the manifestation of significantly improved medical outcomes. Whilst not everyone might agree with all the information contained within these books and the documentary I think it is important to challenge traditional perspectives and find something that resonates with you individually.
In summary my wife and I converted to a largely vegan diet under the watchful eye of a reputable dietician and eliminated all dairy and animal protein (with the exception of seafood), I retired from work eliminating a great deal of stress and over 3 hours of daily commuting, enjoy regular full body deep tissue massages, and commenced a regular daily exercise program of purposeful walking in and around the beautiful beaches of Wollongong.
I am in a good space at the moment but certainly under no illusions about the challenges that still await me personally, and my family and friends more broadly…why else would I have already selected the music I want played at my inevitable funeral.
Apart from the physical benefits of weight loss, reductions in inflammation (my latest CA15.3 marker was down from 95 to 17), improved aerobic capacity, and higher levels of energy, it is the psychological benefits of knowing that I am actively taking steps to improve my outcomes that is just as stimulating and rewarding. As for the previously mentioned concerns about masculinity I just learned to get over myself and what others might think and now just live in the moment. I am also buoyed by the regular comments of friends and family stating that I have never looked better and it provides even greater inspiration for me to “keep on keeping on”.
I love reading newsletters and articles of everyone’s individual breast cancer journey but can’t help wondering why little pink ladies can’t be joined hand-in-hand at some point in time with little blue boys… after all we are all in this together 🙂 (even though I appreciate males make up a very small percentage of the overall numbers).
I find my life now guided by the words immortalised in the abridged version of the Walt Whitman poem highlighted in the movie “Dead Poet’s Society”.
“Oh me! Oh life! Of the questions of these recurring;
Of the endless trains of the faithless – of the cities filled with the foolish;
…..what good amid these, O me, O life?”
Answer: That you are here-that life exists, and identity; That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?