Not a Secret
Patient Name : Ben Cole
I think I will just go with her to her dermatology appointment and have the doctor look at this sore, decided Ben Cole as he slid his shirt on that morning. I am sure it is nothing, but since she is going…, his thoughts trailed off.
For a week, he faithfully administered the strong salve prescribed by the dermatologist but the lesion did not heal. He knew the physician would order a biopsy.
I have a lump in my left breast, explained Ben upon his return to the dermatologist. The dermatologist took a biopsy – the initial results were shocking – sebaceous carcinoma – cancer of the oil glands. Ben knew his family did not have a strong history of cancer, so found this particular diagnosis surprising.
Surgeon Jeffery Smith, MD, with MD Anderson Cancer Center Orlando, performed a mastectomy on Ben to remove the cancer on October 15, 2003, less than three weeks from the initial visit to the dermatologist. “I just wanted it out,” explained Ben. Five days passed as Ben waited to learn the pathology results on his cancer. After reviewing the results, Dr. Smith explained Ben had infiltrating ductal carcinoma – breast cancer.
Shock, fear, and embarrassment suddenly flooded Ben’s mind. “When you are diagnosed with cancer shock immediately sets in. I couldn’t think straight. Denial threatened to take over and leave me doing nothing,” Ben explains. “All of the scans and testing really helped build momentum for me to fight the cancer—to get me doing something.” “And then when I would whine, Ellen Borowicz, a nurse in Dr. Shah’s office, would encourage me,” Ben said in great appreciation of the woman.
Medical oncologist Nikita Shah, MD, began coordinating Ben’s treatment and explained in detail the diagnosis of breast cancer. “The physicians at MD Anderson – Orlando are not prima donnas. They work together to determine the best plan for fighting cancer,” Ben explains. He found great encouragement knowing his surgeon, medical oncologist, and others met in conjunction with MD Anderson Cancer Center Orlando Houston via teleconferencing to review his case. “Having lived in Florida for the majority of my life, I never pictured Orlando as having world-class medicine, but we do.”
He completed the four chemotherapy treatments prescribed in January 2004. Further tests showed the breast cancer had invaded his skin. Again utilizing the teleconferencing, Dr. Shah recommended Ben receive radiation treatments. She referred him to radiation oncologist Daniel Buchholz, MD, who thoroughly explained the treatment to Ben. Even though the thirty-three radiation treatments tired him, the diligent real estate appraiser continued working while battling cancer, “I’m not going to let breast cancer get me down. I am going to keep going, even if I throw up on a client’s front lawn!” Dr. Buchholz explained that it would take a year for Ben’s energy level to return to normal. Eight months after its completion, Ben can see this beginning to happen.
Initially Ben felt ashamed because he had a cancer typically associated with women. Though other men also get breast cancer, Ben had never heard of this before. He had a form of cancer that only affects about 1,000 men a year. Ben knew he had a choice—hide in secrecy or share his story. He shared with his family, with his friends, with his co-workers. And now, he shares with you.