I am a trans man, married for 12 years to my partner of 20 years. I am 52 and was diagnosed at age 50.
My Breast Cancer Story
In April of 2021, I discovered a lump on the right side of my chest. Since I still had large breasts (pre “top surgery”), my GP sent me for a mammogram. On June 29th, (the 18th anniversary of my father’s passing) I had a mammogram and was told by the radiologist that the images seemed to indicate an aggressive form of breast cancer, and we scheduled a biopsy for the very next day. The biopsy was not fun at all, and it confirmed that it was indeed this specific type of aggressive cancer, and they immediately put me in touch with a surgical oncologist, as well as various counsellors, and advised me that there were many programs and services for folks who have breast cancer.
Even though there was no sign of cancer on the left side, at my behest, the surgeon performed a double mastectomy because I had already received Ontario Ministry of Health approval for “top surgery”. I was able to convince him that having only one surgery would be better than having two separate surgeries, as well as chemotherapy and possibly radiation and that he would be treating my Gender Dysphoria at the same time. It was a win-win situation. My surgery date was July 30, and all went well. I had “good margins” around the tumour, and luckily, it had not metastasized to my lymph nodes.
I started chemotherapy on September 30 (which was the 12th anniversary of my mother’s passing), and went through 4 rounds of chemo, before ringing the cancer bell right before Christmas of 2021.
Because my cancer had receptors for estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone (they tested for androgen receptors because they knew I was taking testosterone as part of my Gender Affirming Care), I had to start hormone suppression medication. Every three months, I currently go to the Cancer Centre at the Ottawa Hospital and get a tiny pellet injected into my abdomen, in order to keep the hormones at bay.
Around this time, in January of 2022, I was introduced to my endocrinologist, Dr. Irena Druce, because my oncologist had wanted me to completely stop taking testosterone. As a trans man, this made for a very difficult decision, because, among other things, there is very little data on trans men with hormone-receptive breast cancer, so there is some guesswork involved with regard to potential treatments.
So far, I am limited to a “micro-dose”, which, in my case, means 0.5mg of gel applied to my lower abdomen, each day. Dr. Druce would actually prefer if I skip doses, which I often do, due to my typical ADHD forgetfulness, but I find that my mood is definitely affected when I skip it for 3 days or so. I see a definite correlation between my mood and the amount of testosterone in my system. As I have said many times during this journey, I would rather have 10 good years of taking testosterone, where I feel happy in my skin, than have 20 years of being miserable without the testosterone.
During all my treatment, I was still concerned about my job, as my parents had instilled in me, a great work ethic. I work in the Security Industry, and sometimes it’s hard to find people to cover shifts, especially since this was during the pandemic when a lot of people were staying home due to symptoms. So, basically, I would go to my chemotherapy appointment, then stay home a few days, while I wasn’t feeling well enough to work, and then, head in to work when I was feeling better. I took an average of about 4 days off for each round of chemo. I must say, my company, Paladin Security, and the property managers at Bentall Green Oak were so caring and accommodating. I even got flowers, twice from the property management office.
I battle clinical depression, so it was definitely challenging to get out of bed some days, but I figured I would rather go to work where I could be around people (I am absolutely an extrovert) than sit around “navel-gazing” or feeling sorry for myself.
I really tried hard to keep my spirits up, and I am truly so very thankful to all my friends and family (and even strangers) who were there for me and my wife during those difficult times. A very special friend of mine, from Saskatoon, actually pooled together donations and got us ready-made meals sent to us by Instacart for the whole time I was doing chemotherapy. Another friend got us GoodFood boxes delivered for a while as well. This was an absolute godsend for when I was actually able to eat. That Christmas, just after I rang the cancer bell at the hospital, signifying the end of my chemo treatment, my wife, mother-in-law, and I sat down to an amazing and delicious meal provided by all those friends and even strangers who donated funds to help keep us fed during my 4 months of chemotherapy.
Right after I rang the cancer bell, I felt the need to commemorate my journey with something, because I felt it was important to remember how far I had come in a few short months. My wife and I approached the owner of the jewellery shop (Disegno Fine Jewellery) in the building where I work and asked her about possibly designing a small bell for me as a keepsake. Well, wouldn’t you know, the very next day, I was presented with a Christmas gift from her and her goldsmith (who is also a survivor), which just happened to be a tiny, silver replica pendant of the cancer bell I had rung the week before. It turns out, they had designed one for another client, and when we approached her, she thought that would be the ideal Christmas gift for me that year. I am also quite thankful to the owner and staff at ModMop, in the building where I work, as the owner had said they would shave my head for me “when it’s time.” They went above and beyond, shaving my head whenever I needed, up until my stylist left to pursue other interests. I am so deeply touched by the amount of love and encouragement I have received for simply being me and refusing to surrender to cancer.
At this point in time, two years after my double mastectomy, I am still taking hormone suppression medication, and dealing with what many cis women and trans men deal with when they go through menopause: hot flashes…they are no joke. I have actually been on medication to try to reduce them, but I seem to have developed a tolerance to it and will need to try something else aside from wearing a cooling towel 24/7, all summer long. Alongside my absolutely amazing endocrinologist, we will figure out a solution at some point.
I am so honoured to be a part of this initiative to bring awareness to all the different forms of breast cancer, and the variety of people it can affect. I hope that one day, we will find a cure, but until then, I am thankful for the programs in place that are there to help guide patients through their battles.
I Want You to Know
You can be male, female, cis, trans, Black, white, gay or straight, or somewhere in between all of those things. Everyone has breast tissue. Any lump or change can be an indicator of something, or it could be nothing. I WANT YOU TO KNOW the great thing is there are many treatments out there to help us if it is something. You do not have to be alone in your fight.
Diagnosed at 50