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home : news : news Wednesday, May 25, 2016

10/30/2013 Email this articlePrint this article 
Not a female, but still a survivor. Tom Morse of DeWitt underwent physical therapy with Kristen Dunne at DeWitt Physical Therapy following his surgery to remove a malignant tumor in his left breast as well as several lymph nodes in 2010. While the chances of a man being diagnosed with breast cancer in his lifetime are 1 in 1,000 and most cases are detected in males between 60-70 years of age, over 400 men die of the disease each year. Morse asserts there is no shame in being diagnosed or in doing self-examinations. After all, whether a person is male or female, breast cancer can end that person’s life. Photo by Kate Howes
Breast cancer known as, but not only, a woman's disease
When people hear the words "breast cancer," their minds immediately go to women - women who have fought, are fighting or have lost their fight with the terrible disease.

However, what many fail to remember is women aren't the only ones who stand a chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society, 2,240 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in men by the end of 2013.

Approximately 410 of those men will die of the disease.

While that number doesn't compare to the 40,000 women who lose their lives to breast cancer every year, the fact remains, men are not exempt.

Just ask Tom Morse of DeWitt who, fortunately, is living proof breast cancer is not just a woman's disease.

Typically, when Morse is watching television and a commercial comes on, he leaves the room to grab a snack or do something to busy himself until his program resumes.

On one particular day in late 2009, 65-year-old Morse decided to stay tuned when an advertisement came on featuring a commentator who was interviewing a man and a woman.

"The woman had breast cancer," he relates. "Her husband, who was sitting next to her, said, 'I have breast cancer, too.'"

When asked how the man came to discover he had the disease, he said it began with a pain he felt in his chest every time he put on his seatbelt. He decided to have it checked out and soon was diagnosed.

Morse says it occurred to him he had some pain in his chest on his left side and, within a couple of days, went to see his doctor.

"He asked me if it was okay if he brought in another doctor in to examine me as well," Morse recalls. "She said, 'We definitely have something here.'"

The news left him "pretty floored," Morse says. His first wife died of breast cancer in 1998. Morse had no idea, years later, he would be battling the very same illness.

A mammogram was ordered, followed by a biopsy at the VA Hospital in Iowa City. Doctors concluded the mass needed to be removed immediately.

Morse's physician told him things could go one of three ways: they simply would remove the tumor, remove the tumor as well as a couple of lymph nodes or remove the tumor and all the surrounding lymph nodes.

After six hours in surgery, Morse awoke to hear doctors had to take all the lymph nodes as the cancer had spread.

"Once I knew I had (breast cancer), I couldn't sleep at night," he relates. "I just wanted to get it out. It was less than a month from the time I was diagnosed to the surgery."

Following the procedure, Morse had to undergo eight sessions of chemotherapy, which luckily, he tolerated well.

However, once he completed the chemo, his oncologist said radiation would be necessary as well - 36 sessions, to be exact.

Facing a different kind of enemy

Morse proudly served for three years with the United States Marine Corps.

He guarded the Navy in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, following the Bay of Pigs Invasion, and fought in Vietnam.

While he thought his military experience had been the ultimate test of his courage, Morse discovered his breast cancer diagnosis forced him to face an entirely different kind of enemy.

"Being a veteran, I didn't think anybody could throw anything at me I couldn't take," Morse shares. "There were eight beds in the chemotherapy room at the hospital, all occupied by veterans. I talked to some of them who said they just couldn't take the chemo anymore. That really disturbed me."

Fortunately, he had the unyielding love and devotion of his wife, Connie, and family. He also can't say enough about the skilled and supportive doctors at the VA and University Hospitals in Iowa City.

"Having that kind of support system can make all the difference in the world," Morse relates.

He admits, the first couple of times he went in for mammograms following his treatment, he felt embarrassed and hoped the women in the waiting room would think he was there for his wife.

Now, thankful for his health and having caught the cancer before it was too late, Morse insists men who are diagnosed with breast cancer have nothing to be ashamed of.

"Men and women alike can have this disease," he notes. "(Breast cancer) is known as a woman's disease, but obviously it isn't. The bottom line is it's a deadly illness. Men should do self-examination and if they think they've found something don't wait; get it checked out. It's something you simply can't put aside."

Morse says he attended a couple of support meetings and confesses he felt a little out of place. However, he came to discover the women at the meetings were just as concerned about his condition as he was about theirs.

He continues to get CAT scans and mammograms periodically and performs self-examinations.

The message Morse hopes to send to other men is simply, if it happened to him, it can happen to them. Checking for lumps is something they can do in the privacy of their own homes and although it may feel odd or simply unnecessary, doing so could save their lives.

"What does it hurt?" Morse wonders. "Women are encouraged to do it and frankly, men should be, too. I should know. If I had been checking myself earlier, I could've caught mine a lot sooner."

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