The marriage vow “in sickness and in health” holds special meaning for Sarah and Mike Smith.
Ten years ago the Dover couple was stunned when Mike—then 57—received a diagnosis of breast cancer, becoming one of about 2,200 men in the U.S. diagnosed each year.
“I didn’t hear anything else,” he says. “When they tell you that, you go deaf. Breast cancer affects your hearing.”
About eight years later, the unthinkable happened. Sarah, now 67, learned she had breast cancer as well.
“It was a serious situation,” says Mike. “We laugh about it now but it wasn’t funny at the time.”
“I was crying,” says Sarah.
The Smiths will celebrate their 47th wedding anniversary in October. Right now, they are celebrating being cancer-free.
It was during a fishing trip to Ocean City, Md., in the summer of 2003 that Mike first got the idea that something was wrong. He lifted Sarah to celebrate her making the bigger catch when something in her pocket hit his right nipple causing pain. He mentioned it to his doctor during a routine visit but was told it probably was just a cyst. A biopsy proved otherwise: He was diagnosed with Ductal Carcinoma in Situ (DCIS) Stage 2.
Mike underwent a radical mastectomy and was placed on a 5 ½-year regimen of Tamoxifen. He feels fortunate to have felt the pain and credits his early diagnosis with saving his life. “You just don’t know how many cancers in men start with an undetected breast cancer,” he says.
Sarah knows the benefits of early detection as well. A routine mammogram in the summer of 2011 revealed a shadow that grew larger with subsequent screenings. In March she received a diagnosis of Ductal Carcinoma in Situ (Stage 0). She opted for a radical mastectomy and is now on a regimen of Tamoxifen.
Mike mentored Sarah through her breast cancer journey. “We stuck by each other and we stick by each other,” he says.
After his surgery, Mike started lecturing about male breast cancer, eventually becoming a DBCC peer mentor. Sarah has also become active with the organization. As a native of Thailand, she is using her language skills to raise awareness in the Asian community.
Mike is also making sure that his two daughters and five grandchildren remain vigilant. “We bring it up often,” he says. “I guess I’m the pain in the butt but I ask every year since I was diagnosed if they’ve had their mammograms.”
His advice to men: “First they have to admit they have breasts, no matter what muscle they call them, then if they notice any abnormality, to get checked.”
For more about the Delaware Breast Cancer coalition, click here.