A Healing Path of My Own
By Michael W. Kovarik
Being diagnosed with male breast cancer, a rarity in this family of maladies, brought to light a concealed darkness within – my maleness. I first encountered this stream of doubt, a confusion with the definition of “maleness” as I struggled with my acknowledgement of being gay. Now with my diagnosis it was present once more clearly stating that I had never truly come to grips with its meaning, it vital relationship to who I am. I had pushed it deep inside where it sat patiently waiting for a chance to resurface, to seek its day of reckoning.
A gift from this journey with breast cancer was its guidance, its powerful nudge to a passage inward. I came to understand that in order to heal the cancer I had to come face-to-face with all that held me back.
In uncovering my truth, the choices in how I chose to live and the image ingrained by our culture, our society of “being a man” were finally up for review. A deep honest look at my beliefs was necessary. I had to embrace every part of me and live, breathe my definition of being a man, a gay man with this disease. The freedom unleashed came partnered with an openness in my approach with each doctor, nurse, technician, and society initiating a much deeper, more inclusive, a more personal healing of a man with breast cancer.
Garbled, distant, raw, the doctor’s voice became more jumbled, muted as it penetrated the emotional fog inhabiting the space between us. His disclosure hung heavily in the air above me. “I wish I had better news.” I instinctively sucked in my breath for protection. Then it came. The C word. Cancer. Unable to respond, I sat perfectly still slowly releasing the breath held prisoner.
I noticed the lump in my left chest months earlier, but out of fear ignored its warning signs. Within months of its discovery, my left nipple inverted, I pushed fear aside and took action. Sitting in the surgeon’s office I was hearing the results of my recent surgery to remove the lump. Bits and pieces of his explanation sporadically filtered through the fog now encircling me. “…lab report…from your lungs…my gut…rare cases…male breast cancer.” Alone, terrified, and confused I struggled to grasp the situation. The doctor’s words echoed within my paralyzed being. Thoughts wildly pulsated heightening my already amplified emotions. Wait a minute! Male breast cancer? I’ve never heard of this. Men don’t get breast cancer. I grappled with trying to wrap my head around the diagnosis. This is only a dream continually roared inside my head, but reality let its presence be known and fear stood by to take control.
Growing up in an era that demanded and even expected secrecy of one’s gayness, I had successfully compartmentalized my life. Frightened of anyone knowing the real me, I gave fear permission to set up a permanent residence within and completely divorced my true self from my roles as an elementary teacher, sibling, and in some cases-friend. Relying on old familiar patterns I gave full authority to my doctors, the drug-Tamoxifen, and fear. Shadowing the multiple surgeries, decisions, numerous doctor visits, the discovery of my BRCA-2 gene, and mammograms was a sense of being unsettled, alone. Gradually emerging from the haze encompassing me anger and frustration grew. An underlying current was surfacing with a vengeance: a deep-seated desire to connect with another male experiencing this disease. I craved to hear his thoughts, his frustrations, his fears, and sense of loss. But none would cross my path.
I coped by keeping my sights on a future date – that magical five-year mark when one is considered in remission –when I believed freedom from cancer would be granted. For almost four years I clung to that aspiration, that goal. But with a shocking recurrence of cancer in 2010, my day of liberation was lost. Utterly perplexed, I kept asking, “How? I have been seeing my doctors, taking Tamoxifen, completing my bloodwork. How can this happen?”
The second rendezvous with cancer brought additional surgeries, radiation, a regimen of an even more potent drug, and emotions magnified by many unanswered questions. My doctor’s honest declaration that they do not know what to do with men who experience a recurrence following treatment with Tamoxifen, ushered in a feeling of defeat tinged with defiance. My mind reacted with disbelief and rage. Why don’t they know what to do? Why are therapies for men solely modeled on those for women? Why isn’t our medical community looking into a treatment program designed for men? Why aren’t we collecting data to see if therapies that are successful differ between men and women? As the questions kept materializing my anger fed emotions increased.
With the drug’s intense side-effects taking hold I was losing more of ‘me’ each day. My oncologist’s reluctance to halt the drug sparked the explosion of my exasperation, frustration, and resentment. Feeling completely vanquished and not knowing where to turn, I decided to learn from the teachers I had before me – the countless courageous women who have and are journeying with this disease. I committed myself to creating a more desirable, more personal, a more holistic healing path.
Discarding long-held doubts and fears, I delved into yoga, Reiki, acupuncture, and energy medicine exploring the relationship between energy flow and healing. I read works of various authors unveiling insights on the responsibilities and power to heal that lies within each of us. Venturing into the mystical realms of an astrologer, psychic, and shaman, a deeper understanding of who I am was gifted. All or parts of each alternative path resonated within bestowing a consciousness to reclaim what I had lost.
In 2007, I joined the ranks of a new family, an assemblage of individuals of all races, religions, ages, and genders. My induction brought me face to face with a medical community unsure of an effective treatment for male breast cancer. Yet my cancer was a catalyst for change. Awakening a determination to heal, it initiated a passage to the depths of my being uncovering the courage to forge a healing path of my own.
Michael is the author of Healing Within: My Journey with Breast Cancer. He lives in Greenwich, NY. Contact Michael at: firstname.lastname@example.org or Facebook/Michael Kovarik.