Well, I'm getting closer on writing this on the right day! (One day off instead of two this time.) Does this make me the most horrible blogger ever? I hope my content and the stories of these wonderful women and men make up for it!
Before we begin, I'm sending my big Congrats to all of you Boston participants! You made it!
Now, today I have an interview from Kathy Giller, part of the awesome Breast Man Walking team. Kathy is married to Lee Giller, a male breast cancer survivor. If you walked in DC last year (or Phoenix or Clevland) then you saw Lee. In DC I was feet away from him as he stood in the survivors circle, carrying one of those giant pink banners. And that is when my eyes were opened to the fact that men DO get breast cancer.
Question 1: What is your connection to breast cancer?
My husband, Lee, was diagnosed with Stage ll breast cancer at the age of 48, just four years ago. As with women of a similar diagnosis, he underwent a mastectomy, 4 months of chemo, and 8 weeks of radiation. He was on Arimidex for about a year and then switched to Tamoxifen because there are fewer reported side effects. He will continue to take the medication for a total of 5 years. He goes every 4 months for clinical breast exams, has yearly mammograms, and MRI's.
Since his initial diagnosis, we learned that Lee carries the BRCA 1 gene mutation. This is more common in people of Jewish heritage and puts our children at a 50% chance of inheriting the same mutation. So far, only one of our children has opted be genetically tested and does in fact carry the same gene. This means that her risk of developing breast cancer is increased by 87% and her risk of ovarian cancer by as much as 65%. After learning this, she at the very young age of 25 now has annual mammograms, MRIs, and clinical breast exams every 6 months.
Question 2: Can you tell us a little about your 3-Day experience? (Kathy, and Lee, qualify as 3-Day experts with 2 walks in Boston, 2 in San Diego, 2 in Cleveland, 1 in DC, and 1 in Phoenix all under their belts. And they are adding 3 more this year!)
I would liken the 3-Day to having a baby. The training is like the pregnancy. You are filled with anticipation, enthusiasm, and some anxiety. You feel good some days, not so great others but you know the big moment is coming regardless. The actual Walk is like being in labor. All of your training (LaMaze classes) has paid off but it definitely gets harder the longer you walk. You might feel tired and sore but you keep going. And then the baby arrives! Such a blessing and intense love! This is how being part of Closing Ceremonies felt. You are exhausted from the experience but are enveloped with such a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction knowing the journey was worth every step. And then when it's all over, you forget the pain and sign up to do it again - and again! Such is the 3-Day Family!
Question 3: What has been your best contribution to the cause?
Certainly, we are very proud of the money we have raised so far. In fact, this year, I have the honor of being the top fundraiser for the Cleveland event. But as important as the dollars is the awareness. We have met so many people who do not know that men can get breast cancer. Several gentlemen have told us that after hearing about Lee's experience, they went to doctors because they felt lumps in their breasts. We truly believe we may have potentially spared lives.
Question 4: What have you learned from this incredible experience?
I have learned that there are extraordinary people who fight with everything they have against a very tough adversary. I have learned that some are victorious in the war and some are not. But most give their all in the battle. I have learned to remind myself that there are much bigger things getting upset about than the usual stuff that affects us in the course of our days. I have learned to be grateful for every minute with my husband and tell him how much I love him - every day. I have learned that I am stronger than I realized, but I never want my strength tested.
This interview shows you just a piece of what the Giller's are. They are truly dedicated to this cause, and really go the extra mile (pun really really intended) to raise awareness and compassion. While I am walking in DC this year, it will be my honor to share the sidewalk with Kathy and Lee, and I will thank them for opening my eyes to male breast cancer.
One last thing - It's on you Cleveland! Kathy and Lee will be walking with you, so I expect you to make them proud! :D You can do it!!