05/10/2013 03:22 pm ET Updated Jul 10, 2013

A Few Feet in Their Shoes

Reid Stanley

I have walked miles. Hundreds of them. But now, I am walking a few feet in their shoes.

For the past six years, I have worn many labels. I am a cancer widow. I am a cancer research advocate. I am a supporter for all things to do with cancer awareness. I walk every year in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer. I tell my wife's story. I tell our family's story. I never miss a beat.

But still, I never quite have that connection, do I? I've seen it in some eyes of survivors or current cancer warriors -- the "But, do you really know what it's like?" look. I would wager that with the scars I carry, I do. But then, each of us in this horrific war is scarred and in so many individual ways, and each is no less traumatic than the next. It's not a competition to be won, after all.


About a month ago, that all changed. I started to feel a tenderness in my right breast. And then a slight pain behind my right nipple. Believe me, no one was more surprised than I. As much as I can quote the statistics and slogans about how breast cancer is not just a woman's disease and how men get it, too, and how one of my favorite pink ribbons is the one with blue tip... yes, I was not ready for this surprise.

And certainly, what guy is? So, a week later, as the pain intensified and steadily became more and more present, and the tiny knot became more of a definite lumpish feeling, I began to practice what I preached. There in the shower, I performed my first Breast Self Exam. I didn't like the results.

Luckily, I'd already had an appointment scheduled with my primary care physician. So, by the time I saw her, this new growth had been there about a month. It was always there, always painful. How could this be good?

And I was beginning to wonder if perhaps I wasn't beginning to think myself into a tizzy. Since I was such an advocate, was I making it come true? Was this some weird case of hypochondria? This was all in my head as I approached my doctor's appointment. That and... how do I, as a guy, bring this up? Since I work in the medical field, I decided to just be straight forward and professional.

Uh-huh. I felt so nervous and ridiculous. Fortunately, she put me at ease and we discussed it. And then, I had an experience which may be normal for you ladies, but for me was a whole new world -- I laid back and had a medical breast exam there in the doctor's office. You know the one, arm behind your head while the doctor feels you all over? An eye opener for me. "So this is what it's like," I thought.

Apparently, it wasn't all in my head. The doctor agreed with what I found with the BSE. She ordered a full round of tests. One of these would be truly a journey behind the curtain. She ordered a mammogram for me.

I work in the radiology field. I have to admit -- one of my first thoughts was, But I have so little to squish! I was so nervous when I called to get the appointment, even though it's with my own department. Would I be laughed at? I know there are occasionally men who have mammograms -- I've preached this for years. But now, it's me, and I feel like the only one in the world. Just like every other woman who is suddenly facing this.

And now I have a very good idea of what this is like. What it's like on the other side. I don't know what the mammogram will show. Like thousands of women every day, I am hoping that this mass is benign, a cyst, a small clump, a non-cancerous whatever -- anything but cancer. Like thousands of women every day, I have told my closest friends what's going on, but few others. Like thousands of women every day, I wonder what the future holds.

I walk every year in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer. But now, in the past month, I've walked a few feet in their shoes, and I've seen it all from the other side. And it's still true, I look forward to when we don't have to walk anymore.

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