It’s a team effort: your oncologist, your medication and your attitude | Michael Kovarik

Whether you are a man or a woman, when you are dealing with breast cancer, your attitude is the primary power that you have to aid in your healing. I retired from my career in education in 2012 and this has been my new teaching mission, along with raising awareness around men’s breast cancer. The more involved I got, the more I realized this is the path I need to follow. Yes, my message is about empowering others, but it has also been very healing to share my story. It has been a gift to me.

In 2007 I found a lump on my left chest area. At first my doctor thought it was a cyst, so we decided to wait. But a few weeks later I noticed that my left nipple was actually inverted. They told me I had breast cancer, which blew me away. I sat there thinking, “I can’t have this; it’s a woman’s disease.” I had never heard of men getting breast cancer. I gave over my full authority to the doctors and went with whatever they said. They did a mastectomy and nipple reconstruction, and I started on tamoxifen. I was full of fear and steeped in denial; I just wanted to get to the 5-year mark. But internally, I was saying “no, no, no” to the drugs.

In 2010 I had a recurrence within the scar of the initial surgery. My oncologist said, “We really don’t know what to do with men who have been on tamoxifen and have a recurrence.” I thought, “Why don’t you know?” I had surgery and radiation, then my doctor put me on leuprolide. I had a really severe reactions to it. But when I told my doctor, she just offered additional drugs for side effects.

I refused them; leuprolide was doing enough to me. Her response was, “I’m not stopping the drug.” I thought, “Wait a minute, that’s not your decision, that’s my decision.” I realized I needed to take responsibility for myself.

Meanwhile, I had started doing yoga and reiki. I was loving the openness and centeredness that I was getting from them. They were doing more for my healing than the Lupron. I started acupuncture and working with an energy doctor and an integrated nutritionist. I found a new oncologist. And I decided to stop the leuprolide.

For four and a half years that’s what I’ve done, and my blood work has been excellent. In fact, my oncologist graduated me from having a checkup every 3 months to every 6 months to 8 months to yearly, because all my tests were coming back great. Then last year I developed a persistent cough. I thought it was allergies. But friends nagged me to get it checked out.

Because my dad passed away from pancreatic cancer, I get an endoscopic gastric ultrasound every year. So I asked my doctor to take a look while he was down there. He found two abnormal lymph nodes in my chest cavity and took a biopsy. I got my third diagnosis: I have Stage 4 Metastatic Breast Cancer.

Since the beginning, I had put up a wall to any treatment drug. But with this new diagnosis, I need to change my thinking. Now I welcome the drugs into my body every morning; I embrace them, and tell them that together we will work at informing the cancer that it is time to go—and that together we will make that happen without the side effects.

Again, it’s not about giving over my power to the drugs, it’s about recognizing that I still have a big responsibility for my health. My attitude is what I can use to help guide my healing. And so can anyone else.