Breast Cancer Isn’t Just A Threat For Women
MADISON TWP. — An axle sits on the floor near the door in Larry Mekic’s garage, speckled with mud, caked with grease near the rotors.
The 69-year-old says he’ll have a hard time ever tossing out the part to the modified dirt track car that his grandson races.
It saved his life from a disease he never imagined he’d get.
The part-time school bus driver for Lackawanna County Head Start and retired maintenance electrician was using carburetor cleaner to detail the part last year, but the spray can nozzle was backwards and he doused his chest with the potent solvent.
He yanked off his shirt as it started to burn his skin. When he wiped the spot with a paper towel, he felt the lump.
His discovery in April led to a whirlwind two weeks that included a hastily scheduled mammogram and biopsy that reached a head when his radiologist called.
Mekic, standing over 6 feet tall with thick, warm hands and wisecracking sense of humor, had stage 3 breast cancer on the left side and a pea-sized tumor on the right.
“I about fell over,” he said remembering the phone call. “I’ll tell you, I was devastated.”
Of all breast cancer cases, men make up about 1 percent.
Men have a one-in-800 chance of developing the disease while women have a one-in-eight chance, said Dr. Erin Miller, Mekic’s surgeon at Geisinger Community Medical Center in Scranton.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The American Cancer Society estimates about 2,550 new cases of invasive breast cancer in men will be diagnosed this year, and 480 men will die from it.
“I do think men oftentimes struggle with the diagnosis — worse than women,” Miller said. “Because it’s less common, because people hear breast cancer and then immediately just assume women, they kind of forget that it can happen to men.”
Because fewer men get it, the ones who do have a harder time finding others to relate to, she said.
Mekic’s case was easier than many others for a few reasons. He caught it in time, he resolved to beat it and his family backed him up.
“He was a trooper,” Miller, his surgeon, said. “He had a great attitude, which is a huge part of the battle, and a huge family support system.”
On May 4, Miller removed both of his breasts. The surgery lasted six hours.
He thought that would be the tough part, but then came chemotherapy.
“Pain’s mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it don’t matter,” he said, standing in the garage he built with his sons on a quiet, dead-end road in Madison Twp. “Pain I can live with. My mind will overcome the pain, but the sickness from the chemo, ain’t no getting away from it.”
He finished chemotherapy in August. To be considered cancer-free, he needs no recurrence for five years. At last check, he had no cancer in his body.
Racing season is over for the Mekic family, and it’s time to start preparing for next year.
On Monday afternoon, a long, tubular metal race car frame sits up on a hydraulic lift, nearly completely disassembled. He’ll send it out in a couple weeks for an X-ray inspection, which detects cracks and or weak spots. The car’s 700-horsepower engine sits on a cart, waiting to be shipped out to be rebuilt.
Put back together, the car weighs 2,450 pounds and hits speeds of 120 mph.
When he first got sick, he told his family to start the racing season without him, but they stayed behind.
“They missed the first five races,” he said. His eyes reddened and welled up with tears as he remembered.
He didn’t want to hold them back from the sport they all shared, but it meant everything that they waited for him.
He still speaks about his 18-week fight with cancer incredulously, surprised that it ever happened at all.
“If you had said colon cancer or something — well, guys get it,” he said. “The problem is there’s a lot of guys out there that don’t know they’ve got to check, and that’s the part that bothers me the most.”
Contact the writer:
Male breast cancer warning signs
Men whose first degree relatives, such as a mother or sister, had breast cancer are at higher risk of getting it.
Here are some of the warning signs:
• Usually first appears as painless lumps.
• Skin dimples or puckers.
• Inverted nipple.
• Discharge from nipple.