A survivor’s story - Breast cancer overcomer urges everyone to examine their breasts for changes
In recognition of World Cancer Day 2020, which was observed on February 4, Outlook shares the story of a man whose world was shattered when he got the shock diagnosis of breast cancer 10 years ago.
What started out as a feeling of tenderness in his left breast during a routine car ride, turned out to be the rare case of male breast cancer for Randolph ‘Randy’ Herbert.
Because breast cancer overwhelmingly affects women – about 99 per cent of all CASES – Herbert and his family were shocked to hear the diagnosis in 2009.
“I was driving one day when the seat belt rubbed against my chest and there was a tenderness in my left breast. I told my wife about it, but went on with my day. I played dominoes with the guys, but when I went home, the feeling was still there.”
The tenderness persisted and his wife, Valda Patricia, urged him to see a doctor the next day. He underwent a number of imaging tests, including a biopsy which gave a diagnosis of early-stage breast cancer – a news that devastated Herbert and his family and disrupted his retirement in a big way.
“I was thinking, man, cancer, that thing kills people,” the 76-year-old said as he reflected on what was a scary and unsure time in his life. He was only 66 at the time of the diagnosis, and had only just begun to enjoy retirement.
But in true form, the former soldier and rugby player was adamant that he would fight the cancer tooth and nail, paying attention to every instruction given to him by his doctors, and leaning upon his loved ones for never-ending support.
And so it all began.
The next several months were a whirlwind for Herbert and his family. He was admitted to a cancer centre in New York, where he underwent surgery to remove the tumour in his breast, and later underwent four rounds of chemotherapy over four months.
“After four treatments, they said: ‘Yes, you’re ready to go. You are okay.’ I was given some medication to take every day for five years,” the retiree shared. He and his wife returned to Jamaica to continue his aftercare.
Randolph’s life-saving support system of loved ones
Herbert said his spriteness today, and ability to live an even longer and more fulfilling life, is a true testament to the value of an excellent support system made up of family and friends during cancer care. From his wife nudging him to visit the doctor, to her and their children being his comforting shoulder during the difficult times, and even his radiologist helping him transition to the Cancer Centre in New York, Herbert said he couldn’t have done it without them.
Putting that into perspective, he added, “Every day, my wife had me on a drill to take my medication. Every day for five years, and I never missed a day.”
And though he generally adhered to his doctor’s instructions, he made a few exceptions.
Herbert said, with much amusement: “The doctor advised me to keep away from fatty foods and to keep away from drinks that have things like lemon in them. But I’m a man that likes my stew peas and rice, and a little piece of pork sometimes. I eat a little piece sometimes, but not much, like how I used to.”
In the end, his efforts paid off when after five years, he was given the all-clear – he no longer had cancer.
“I still travel. I still go out and play dominoes,” Herbert said, and today he continues to celebrate more than 10 years of being cancer-free.
From the comfort of his home of 43 years in Waterford, St Catherine, Herbert and Valda can reflect on the beauty of life, enjoying their grandchildren, among a number of the world’s other wonders. And for him, life is still about learning. He said he wants to share with Jamaicans, especially the men, that they too should be self-aware on World Cancer Day, which was celebrated on February 4.
“Please, if you feel a lump in your breast, go and look after it. Don’t wait. I got my treatment, and I can say to Jamaicans, don’t be afraid, because we have good doctors we can go to and who we can depend on. I’m here for 10 and a half years, looking to do 20 and a half years more.”
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in Jamaican women. However, while only about one per cent of men will get breast cancer, everyone should examine their breasts for changes. If there are changes, tell your doctor, or visit a health centre and get it checked.