We all have a series of moments in our lives that have sculpted our character and created the mold that we exhibit today. These moments have tried our patience, energized our desires or instilled fear beyond our ability to control, yet each and every defining moment has arrived us here to this time; exactly as we are. It hasn’t been until more recently that I have found power in one of my most galvanizing life moments and stabilized myself in a mental and emotional state where I am comfortable sharing one of the largest chisels in the statue of my character.
Since 1985, October has served as the annual awareness month for breast cancer in the United States. Since then, October has served as a symbol of dedication, hope and the commitment to prevail. October 2013 was the beginning of my fight.
Fall of 2013 represents my departure from the protection of childhood and into the trials and tribulations of adulting. I had just turned 19 years old and committed to attending the University of Colorado Boulder where I thought my future could be designed and guided within the coloring book lines of my imagination. As we take this step into the world, we have our sights on the big picture. We pick a school to get an education. An education to get a profession. A profession to support a family. And finally, a family to meet our emotional desires of belonging as human beings. This is the end goal for so many of us and this Fall was my step towards my dreams.
I lived the majority of my freshmen year exactly as one would imagine; a poor, disgruntled, sleep-deprived, girl crazy, off-the-guardianship-leash, carefree student. There were plenty of moments within this time that bent my character in ways that my parents would love to leave off the annual “holiday family update” letter, but these times hold just as much importance as the “volunteering for homeless puppies with learning disorders” ones. This time of my life has since become a whirlwind of recollection, but February 20 of 2014 is as clear now as it was at 2:23 pm that Thursday. College had presented me with opportunities in all aspects of life, including collegiate athletics. As it turns out, NCAA Division I schools have intensive physical examinations and drug screenings for performance enhancing materials. It was these screenings that referred me to my primary care physician and began a journey I did not know even existed. I was sent this direction due to abnormal hormone levels in the body, which can be a common occurrence through puberty, but my primary diagnosis was anything but common. After countless blood draws and several PET scans, I was called into my doctor’s office to have a discussion. We sat down and he conveyed to me that I had “blah blah blah cancer blah blah”. I was 19 years old. That is 232 months. Only 7059 days postpartum. Cancer was the only thing I heard and at this time in my life, I was INVINCIBLE. I believed cancer must have been wrong. Turns out, the Doc earned his medical degree for being right and within 6 days I had a left side mastectomy. Now I will be the first male to admit that a diagnosis of cancer is one thing but hearing that you have a type of BREAST cancer is just absurd. First off, I was not aware that there were different types of breast cancer and second, I sure as heck was unaware that men had a 1 in 833 chance of being diagnosed at some point in their life. It’s true. Google it.
I started Thursday at 2:00 pm with what I thought to be a healthy, functioning body to the following Friday at 5:00 pm having double the stress and half the nipples. After the extraction of the mass in the breast tissue, alongside biopsies of several surrounding lymph tissues, I was officially diagnosed with stage 1 invasive ductal carcinoma. The surrounding lymph tissue suggested no signs of infiltration or spreading of the cancer. Like many other men who may read this, I started taking our good ol’ friend tamoxifen and low dose chemotherapy in Denver, Colorado. Knowing my family history with breast cancer and the prevalence, I had genetic testing done to identify the risk factors and understand better how my genetic composition can change my chances of related cancers. Genetic testing is a modern-day gift to humanity as it allows us to understand so much more about our predisposition to hereditary health issues. As far as gifts go in general, I would have settled for a Candy Apple Red Ferrari, but as a consolation prize, I am the proud owner of the BRCA2 gene.
Some of you reading this may not appreciate the way in which I deliver my testimony in a light-hearted and joking fashion, but for some of us like myself, laughter is the only way to cope with a life changing diagnosis. This diagnosis has changed my coloring book lines and drawn me into the field of medicine. Since that diagnosis day, I have completed a Bachelor of Science in Biology, a Master of Science in Psychology and will be finishing my Bachelor of Science in Nursing this April with dreams of working pediatric oncology. This process has molded me in ways I only could have dreamt and as a proud father of a 3-year-old little boy, I have grown in my role as an advocate for genetic testing and breast cancer awareness for BOTH genders. In my time finding ways to extend my outreach in the community, I came across Harvey and Vicki’s organization: HIS Breast Cancer Awareness. Our story is being heard. We live in a time where people are noticing, and we are more armed to inform than ever before. Even larger media groups are serving as advocates such as the incredible new television series A Million Little Things, where two of the main characters are survivors of breast cancer (one of which being male).
I am here to serve my community and spread awareness in any ways possible. If anyone out there is in need of a hand for an event, an outreach program, an inspirational idea or even just someone to talk to, feel free to reach out. I have one of those names that isn’t too difficult to find on social media and I stick out like a sore thumb.
Legend Michael Rommé