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Posts from the ‘male breast cancer’ Category

Lance Armstrong: A Reasoned and Rational Personal Reflection

Note: As this commentary unfolds it will not be from a “…cast the first stone” perspective. I am far from an archetype of virtue. I’ve made mistakes, I’ve wished for Do-Overs, and, I would guess, so have you. This is not a judgment crusade.  After all — ultimately — who am I, who are we, to judge? I don’t know about you, but Final Judgment, when ALL is said and done, is way above my pay grade.

The Faces

Let’s just see where this takes me. Seriously, there is such a confluence of emotion that I need to simply put fingers to the keyboard and let it flow.

Disappointment, anger, concern, empathy, outrage, sympathy, confusion, and back again to disappointment. And, that’s just nicking the surface.

The accompanying photo is of a poster presented to me by The Lance Armstrong Foundation (now known as The LIVESTRONG Foundation), in 2001. Two years earlier, following a diagnosis of invasive ductal carcinoma, I had a modified radical mastectomy and my perspective on many things, all things, was forever changed. Since sharing the dais that afternoon in Austin with Lance and Lisa Bashore, I’ve delivered dozens of cancer survivorship talks throughout the nation including additional presentations at the request of LAF. I also participated in a Tour of Hope cycling event, a 50-mile ride into Washington, DC — led by Armstrong — to raise cancer awareness and funds for survivor support.  It was always my honor to contribute to this cause anytime, anywhere, anyway I could. Whenever LAF asked, whenever any cancer organization asked, the answer was/is always, without hesitation, yes.

Say it ain’t so…

For over ten years this poster has hung proudly and prominently in our home in Michigan, in the boardroom of the Health and Wellness Institute in Rhode Island, and, after retiring from HWI in 2010, once again in our home in Michigan. Following Lance’s chat with Oprah, my initial reaction was to remove the poster while dressing down the screened image of Armstrong with venom-sprayed expletives.  The lies, the arrogance, the vindictive trampling of good people whose only crime was telling the truth at the risk of clenched-jawed Armstrong wrath, sycophant lawyers serving papers, and mercurial public scorn.

Perhaps, most of all, the flood of emotion was because he pulled out an egotistical and hubris-coated needle and popped the balloon of trust. He also vaporized the poetic illusion that the fictitious Jack Armstrong, the All American Boy, born in Radioland, USA on July 31, 1933, a star athlete at Hudson High School, international super star, and universal role model was — in our world — Lance Armstrong, the Olympian, Cancer Survivor, and Tour de France Champion, born in Plano, Texas on September 18, 1971, a star athlete at Plano East Senior High School, international super star, and universal role model.

Yes! Yes! Yes! We want and need our heroes. Take a bow, Lance Armstrong, take a bow!

But, wait a minute, what’s that you say? This “mythic, perfect story” was “one big lie;” that you cheated during every one of your seven Tour de France victories; that you bullied, threatened, and intimidated those with the courage to speak the truth; that you simply didn’t believe that, in spite of all your admissions, you were cheating! Ah, say it ain’t so, Lance…please, say it ain’t so.

If it seems too good to be true…

No matter how much it served our personal yearning for real-world, honest-to-goodness caped crusaders, the Lance Armstrong story was simply too good to be true.  And, deep down, we knew it. As with the creeping credibility collapse of Three Cups of Tea author, Greg Mortenson (too good to be true), the heroic level of the cancer survivor turned seven-time Tour De France Conqueror defied reason. But favoring the comforting gauze of wished for miracles and Wheaties’ fanfare, the facts, logic, and preponderance of evidence were screened, pushed aside, and hushed by the desire, hope, and, yes, naiveté, of millions.  We were duped, but willingly so. Lance was not the only beneficiary of these self-serving actions.  Hubris cannot live without an adoring audience anxious to elevate those who defy the outer limitations decreed by the gods. Shame on you, Lance Armstrong, and, to a lesser, cautionary degree, shame on us, as well.  Together we created a parasitic symbiosis that only the bravest among us had the courage to acknowledge, separate, and expose for the toxic relationship it became.

Yes, Virginia, real heroes do exist…

Actually, maybe now is a good time to stop bestowing the rank of “Hero” on anyone who simply does the right thing; you know, the stuff our moms told us to do when we were little.  Precious few deserve the “Hero” badge, and even fewer can bear the burden and temptations that come with the label. That said, how about we just periodically stop spinning, recognize, and celebrate REALLY GOOD PEOPLE.

In a world of situational ethics (morality of convenience), it’s refreshing and reassuring to know that there are people — lots and lots of good folks — out there who are willing to take great risks, forego riches, and commit themselves to causes bigger than themselves. U.S. Anti-Doping Agency CEO, Travis Tygart, under threat of personal harm, is one of the good guys. His mission is to protect clean athletes by exposing those, like Armstrong, who cheat.  Jeff Fager, Chairman, CBS News, also joins the club. He, admittedly, helped create the Armstrong myth, however, he and his producer, Michael Raduzky, also relentlessly stayed with the story and reported the myth as it began to unravel. As with Tygart, Raduzky reported on 60 Minutes that the Armstrong camp personally threatened him.  Another person who was threatened, disparaged, as well as economically harmed by Armstrong is Betsy Andreu, wife of Frankie, Lance Armstrong’s former cycling teammate. Her crime: She testified in a lawsuit that she and her husband heard Armstrong tell a doctor in the mid-1990s that he had used an array of performance enhancers. Frankie, she reports, was pushed off the Armstrong team, essentially ending his professional cycling career, for failing to fully step up to the recommended doping program.

Yes! Yes! Yes! We want and need REALLY GOOD PEOPLE. Take a bow Travis Tygart, take a bow Jeff Fager, take a bow Michael Raduzky, take a bow Betsy Andreu!  You’ve all earned it.

It’s Not About the Bike…

There is another good guy, really good guy, and dear friend for over ten years, that I would ask to step forward, be recognized, and take a bow. He is Doug Ulman, President and CEO of LIVESTRONG. But, asking Doug to take a bow would be a useless request. Doug would — nicely, politely, self-deprecatingly — smile, look away, shrug his shoulders, defer to the entire organization, and scoff at the suggestion.  I know he would. That’s who he is.

Since their inception in 1997, the LIVESTRONG Foundation has raised more than $470 million to support their mission to inspire and empower people affected by cancer. They have provided financial resources to more than 550 organizations that conduct cancer survivorship research or offer services to people affected by cancer, and 81 cents of every dollar raised has gone directly to support their programs and services for survivors. Remarkable. Please consider making a contribution.

So, as I look closely at the poster on the wall in our recreation room I am reminded of that day long ago in Austin, and I think about what this all means, today.  That day was a dynamic celebration of hope, determination, inspiration, and common cause. IT was about surviving and thriving with, during, and beyond your cancer diagnosis, or the diagnosis of a loved one. It was about collective caring, unity of spirit, and the power of the possible. It was about tears, laughter, hugs, and goodwill. It was about the visceral knowledge that life is lived in moments…not years.

Yes, Lance and his journey symbolized the theme and galvanized the crowd, but it wasn’t and isn’t about the bike.  On that score, he got it right, he told the truth.

The poster stays…

The Scar…

I am pleased to announce that I have been invited and I have accepted an invitation to give the Keynote address for Breast Cancer Focus, Inc.  The event will take place on May 6th in Anchorage, Alaska.  The mission of Breast Cancer Focus, Inc. is to forge a cohesive team as a catalyst for obtaining funds to support advocacy, education, research and compassionate giving in Alaska and to help eradicate breast cancer.  My talk will be “Beyond Survival…Living a Life of Thrival.”

The essay below will help explain my dedication to this cause.  It was requested by the British medical journal “The Lancet” and was published on February 16, 2006.  My guess is that the “Author’s Note” at the end of the posting will resonate with many of you.


The Scar.  I look in the mirror and there it is. A diagonal line, about 8 inches, it stretches from my right armpit to my sternum. It’s always there. The scar. It’s always there.

April 8, 1999. It’s tax time in the USA and that means a last minute dash to my accountant’s office where I am both nervous at the prospect of owing the government more money and anxious to get this annual torture behind me. The office looks the same as it did last year, and the year before, and the year before that. The secretary is as friendly as always and the coffee is as bad as I remember it. As I walk down the hall to my accountant’s office, I reflect for a moment on how quickly time passes. Wasn’t I just here?

Same wrinkled white shirt, same tie askew, same papers piled high on his desk. Yes, it’s tax time, all right. Standing up with outstretched hand, Rod smiles his big Irish smile as he greets me. Same old Rod, friendly and inviting. But, he looks tired. Really tired, and, different.

“How are you?” I ask with more than the usual, everyday, courtesy tone. “Are you alright?” “Actually,” he says, “I just finished my second round of chemo and I am a bit out of sorts.” A quick tilt of my head tells him that I didn’t know about the, what? Cancer? “Yes.” He says, reading my face, “I had a modified radical mastectomy in January.”

Too much to process. Not only was Rod sick, he has cancer. And, wait a minute, what did he just say? “Modified radical mastectomy”? Breast cancer? Rod? A man? Breast cancer? Again, my expression speaks for me as I stare across the desk. He’s seen this look before, I can tell. “Surprised me, too!” he says with a small, thin smile and raised eyebrows.

The tax part of the visit goes quickly as we talk more about IT. How did you discover IT? How is the family dealing with IT? How are you handling IT? One thing is clear: neither of us thought that IT could happen to men. After about an hour of this, we stand up, shake hands; I give him a hug and tell him I’ll pray for him. He says, ‘Thank you” and smiles his big Irish smile but, this time, a little less big.

I walk out of Rod’s office, down the hall, out the door, down the stairs, out onto the sidewalk, and walk toward my parked car. As I reach for my keys with one hand, I puzzle about how we allow the small things in life to steal our time when time goes by so quickly. With the other hand, I check out my breasts. First the left one, then the right one. Then, I stop dead in my tracks. Behind the right nipple, hard as a rock, about the size of a small pea, I feel something. No pain, but definitely, something.

I smile at the power of suggestion. I mean, what are the odds, right? I just saw my accountant, he shares with me that he has breast cancer; I check myself over and find a lump. Come on, now. What are the odds? What was the likelihood that I, too, had invasive ductal carcinoma? Breast cancer. In a pathology report issued June 2, 1999, I got my answer: SAMUELSON, MICHAEL,M 51 YRS, DIAGNOSIS: BREAST (RIGHT): INVASIVE DUCTUAL CARCINOMA. On June 14, 1999, like my friend and accountant, Rod Byrne, I had a modified radical mastectomy. What are the odds, indeed.

When it comes to breast cancer, men are more likely to die from embarrassment than they are from the disease. In general, men do not like to talk about their health or go to the doctor. And, trust me on this one, most men don’t like to even think about having breasts. Pecs, maybe, but not breasts! So, they often ignore the early signs of breast cancer until too late. If my accountant hadn’t been comfortable enough to tell me about his cancer, and had I not taken the initiative to seek professional help, it is unlikely that this article would have been written. Given the fact that I had a Grade 3 tumor (very aggressive growth) the odds are I would have died.

Living a Life of Healthy Uncertainty…

Author Note:  After my surgery, I became certified in technical climbing at the Alaskan Mountaineering School, trekked to the base camp of Mount Everest, climbed to the summit of Mt Kala Patar in Nepal, and hiked across the Davidson Glacier in Alaska. In addition, I reached the summit of Mt Kilimanjaro in Africa in 2006.   In July, 2011 I trekked over the Salkantay Mountain Pass in the Peruvian Andes on my way to Machu Pichu.  Why? Well, in part because I moved out of the village of Someday. You know the place; it’s where we put off living life because of the Toos. Too old, too poor, too busy, too out of shape. Now, as I look in the mirror and see the eight inch diagonal line that stretches from my right armpit to my sternum, the line that’s always there—the scar—I often smile with the realization that the only Too I know for sure is the fact that life is too short.