By Barry Cogan
On the Wednesday before Labor Day 2011, I asked my wife (Sandy) to look at my left breast and in particular my left nipple. Our grandchildren Sam (14) and Mimi (12) were headed back to Israel.
I didn’t want my itchy nipple/breast condition to bother both grandchildren. Sandy said she thought that I should go and see our Dermatologist, Frank Kern.
The next day (Thursday) I saw Dr. Kern here on Brigantine Island. Dr. Kern told me this was not a dermatologist situation and that I should schedule a Mammogram ASAP.
I contacted Atlantic Imaging (AI) in Somers Point, NJ. I was successful in getting the first appointment on the Friday before the Labor Day weekend. Since the appointment was for 7:00AM, I told my wife that it was not necessary for her to go to the AI meeting with me. FIRST ERROR.
It is about a 30-minute drive from Brigantine to Somers Point.
I was the first patient and Nicole took me into the office where the Mammography machine was housed. I know why women complain about taking a mammography. The apparatus is unforgiving and when Nicole shoved my left breast into the machine, I really felt the pain.
I got through the procedure and then it was a problem of where to seat me as the room was filled with women. AI was sensitive to a potential problem.
After getting dressed, I waited in the large waiting room. It seemed that it was a very long time, but it was no more than 5 or 10 minutes. Dr. Peggy came to get me, and we went into her office. Dr. Peggy told me there were some things going on and that I needed a Biopsy ASAP. I told Dr. Peggy that I was completely comfortable with her doing the Biopsy.
Dr. Peggy then told me “Medicare will NOT authorize a Biopsy on the same day that a mammogram was performed."
At that point, I believe I was only processing about 50% of what Dr. Peggy was telling me. Very fortunately for me there was a Patient Navigator (Sharon P.). Sharon calmed me down and gave me her business card and said, “I know you only heard 50% of what Dr. Peggy was telling you, so I want you to go home and have your wife call me”.
I drove the 30 minutes back to Brigantine, thinking “I have Breast Cancer and what now?” When I walked into the Condo, Sandy took one look at me said “what is the matter, you are white as a sheet?” I told her I believe I have Breast Cancer and gave Sharon’s business card and told Sandy to call Sharon.
Sandy immediately called Sharon and was on the phone for about 15 or 20 minutes. She hung up the phone and looked at me and said “You have Breast Cancer, and I am going to call Sandy Moss, Barbara Dragon, and Nancy Zucker. Sandy was looking for a Breast Surgeon recommendation.
All three women said there was only one place to go and that was Dr. Dalia Sataloff at Penn Medicine.
First Good Action Item.
Now remember this was the Friday before Labor Day 2011.
Not expecting any one to be working on the afternoon before the Labor Day holiday, Sandy got someone working in Dr. Sataloff’s office. Sandy explained what happened at AI and that I needed to see Dr. Sataloff ASAP. The women said “you are very lucky, Dr. Sataloff has a cancelation first thing Tuesday AM.”
Sandy quickly said, “there is no opening now, we will be there at 7:30 AM on Tuesday.”
Second Good Action Item.
The rest of Friday, all day Saturday, all day Sunday, and all day of Monday Labor Day, seemed to drag by. I was thinking, “I have Breast Cancer and maybe I was not going to make it.”
We left Brigantine at about 6:30AM on Tuesday and arrived a little before 7:30AM. Dr. Sataloff came in shortly after we arrived. Who did Dr. Sataloff look like? Julia Roberts and dressed like Jacki Kennedy. A stunning woman.
Dr. Sataloff asked me to take off my shirt and quickly observed what was going on with my left breast. She stepped back and said, “You have Breast Cancer and now let’s find out how bad it is”.
Dr. Sataloff was so reassuring that I took a breath that I had been holding in for all 3 days of the Labor Day holiday.
Doctor “how could he review the Pet Scan that was done just that AM, he said “You obviously don’t know who your Surgeon is”.
I will NEVER forget that question, and I immediately knew I was in great hands with Dr. Sataloff.
After the surgery, which was scheduled within 3 weeks of the detection. This was an unrealistic short time. Dr. Sataloff completed the surgery and while in her office, the discussion centered around what to do next, either Chemo, Radiation, or both. Dr. Sataloff came down on the side of Chemo. But the Oncologist, Dr. David Mintzer of Penn Medicine came down on the side of radiation. Dr. Sataloff demanded we get another opinion. Dr. Fox also came down on the side of radiation. Dr. Sataloff then said, “OK, now I am comfortable with going to Radiation”.
The next decision was “where should I receive the radiation treatments. The choices were radiation in Philadelphia or radiation in Somers Point, NJ. I was resisting going to any place
other than Penn Medicine in Philadelphia.
Dr. Mintzer wanted me to understand that radiation would be 30 minutes a day for 6 weeks and making the hour plus travel to Philadelphia one way, would be a real pain.
Dr. Mintzer said that there was a Doctor (Dr. Vashti Wilson) who trained with him, and she was in Somers Point. I was convinced that anyone trained by Dr. Mintzer was the best way to go!
That was the Third Good Action Item.
Dr. Wilson was TERRIFIC. I now had a four-person team taking care of me.
The Pet Scan detected a small pinpoint “light” in my neck. Dr. Sataloff recommended an Ear, Nose, and Throat Oncologist
by the name of Jason Newmam. I now had a full team of five persons taking care of me.
That was the Fourth Good Action Item.
Now at that time we had a magnificent yellow Labrador Retriever, by the name of “Yogi, It’s Not Over till It’s Over ".
Yogi was both a Pet Therapy Dog and my Service animal. Just before Dr. Sataloff confirmed my Breast Cancer, Yogi who was 11 years old was starting to slow down, and Sandy said “I think it’s time we consider taking Yogi to the Vet for the terrible decision.
A friend, one of the women who recommended Dr. Sataloff, said “you can’t ask Barry to make that decision while he is going through the Radiation."
Yogi sensed I was ill and picked up his game and WENT TO MY RADIATION TREATMENTS FOR THE ENTIRE 6 WEEKS.
Once my radiation treatments were completed, Yogi looked into my eyes and told me “I have gotten you through your Cancer Treatments and now it is my time”
That was one of the toughest decisions I had to make in my life.
One of my major disappointments is the fact that I could not tell Dr. Wilson how much she meant and helped me as she left Shore Memorial, first to Atlantic Care where I saw her once, but then she left Atlantic Care and I have not been able to locate her.
In my search for more information on male breast cancer I found HIS Breast Cancer Awareness. There was an offer to purchase a HIS Breast Cancer T-Shirt. I ordered it and when I received it, started to wear it often. I always got the question, "where did you get the T-Shirt and why do you wear it?" This helped me to share information about male breast cancer.
I would explain that I was a 2%er, and that 2% of people who get Breast Cancer are MEN. Most times, the answer led to a discussion of Breast Cancer and how I detected it.
I recently saw Dr. Mintzer, Dr. Sataloff and Dr. Newman and it was a bittersweet moment when they all said I was 10 years out from the start of my Breast Cancer, and it would not be necessary to see me in the future. I had been taking the medication Tamoxifen since my breast cancer was hormonally driven. I am now off Tamoxifen as well and I’m ready to move on with life.
I am VERY grateful that my Breast Cancer was detected and then treated by the BEST Team possible