A Turkish man’s fight against male breast cancer
Ayşe Arman - ANTALYAMetin Arslan is a kind man: Humorous, confident, with no complexes....
He has male breast cancer, a relatively rare cancer in men. Both of Arslan’s breasts have been removed. Don’t say, “It won’t happen to me,” but rather check your breasts regularly, he says. I will leave you with his story…
Q: For the first time in my life, I am meeting a man who has breast cancer and had both of his breasts removed.
A: (Laughing) Everything has a first.
Q: Please tell us what happened from the start.
A: I believe that stress was the root of it.
Q: Do you have a stressful life?
A: Yes! Both my private and business lives were stressful. I was working in the medical sector. I was working as a regional director. We were living in Ankara with my wife and children, and then I was relocated to Kayseri. A lot of extra stress! The stress of moving the house on the one hand, and my wife’s retirement on the other. In addition, one of my children was preparing for the high school entrance exam, while the other was preparing for university. Everything came one after the other. Arguments, stress…
Q: And you got cancer?
A: No, I fell in love!
A: It was a hard period at home. I had to be successful at my job. This created more pressure for me. I saw her in a hospital in the middle of this quagmire, and I fell in love with her. I was in my 40s. Something really happens to men at that age.
Q: Was she a doctor?
A: No, she was the wife of a doctor.
Q: Was she married too?
A: Yes, but her husband was seriously ill. Then he passed away.
Q: Then what happened?
A: We did not even hold hands once. We saw each other, we talked and we used to call each other. It was platonic, like teenage love. Then my daughter saw a message from her on my phone and told my wife. She had written: “If this is love, then I am [in love]…” This message ended our marriage. My wife did not forgive me. She broke up our 19-year marriage. I was a salesman for years, and I was talented in convincing people, but I could not convince my wife. She didn’t change her mind, no matter what I said. I damaged her trust in me. Seeing her sad also hurt me. My stress increased tenfold. And there was the divorcing period. That took two years. My wife involved my children in it and they testified against me at the court, too. It was a horrible period. My immune system collapsed.
Q: But you wanted to divorce too?
A: No, I was confused. I guess I was depressed. I didn’t know what I wanted. They were really innocent feelings.
Q: And are you still together with the other woman?
A: No, we are not!
A: You have different expectations when you are in love. Your imagination takes over. It glorifies the lover and of course makes you think that everything is going to be perfect. We tried to live together after my divorce. We couldn’t manage it. The love I fostered in my mind had no equivalent in real life. It didn’t work.
A: And then, I moved to Antalya to a small house by the sea. One night, I called my son when I was drunk and told him I loved him very much. I told him: “I divorced your mother, not you.” We both cried. “Come visit me in Antalya sometime,” I said. When he arrived, he noticed a little bulk that I had neglected on my chest. It had become apparent even when I was wearing a t-shirt. “Is there something serious?” he asked. He looked at it. It was a little smaller than a chestnut. He insisted that I should go see a doctor. I was expecting them to cut it out, but the doctor said, “Let’s check it first.” They sent it to pathology. When it came back, I learned the truth: I had breast cancer.
Q: It is not a common situation in men. What did you feel?
A: I was shocked. Thankfully, there was Professor Mustafa Erdoğan from Antalya Memorial Medstar Cancer Centre. He calmed me down, because I was panicking like a child. It’s not easy for someone to learn that he has cancer. You think of your loved ones more than yourself.
Q: What was the diagnosis?
A: Third-stage breast cancer, or something like that. But I am not a quitter. Are there any people who struggle against such odds? Yes there are! Have they survived? Yes they have. I thought I could do this if they could. I will beat this disease and continue my life. “There were many things I was proud of in my life, and beating this sickness will be one of them,” I told myself.
Q: When did these things happen?
A: These days [happened] last year.
Q: How did you learn that you also had cancer on the other breast?
A: Because they check the other one when you have breast cancer. The other one also had cancer. They removed both of my breasts with a mastectomy. Then I had chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
Q: Did people find it strange when you told them you had breast cancer?
A: Of course they did. “How?” they used to ask. Especially the women were quite surprised. I was joking, “I’m on your side now.” I never had a complex about it. I continue to go to check-ups for it. But I am fine now. I was only nervous while going to the sea, but I do not care anymore.
Q: Did you understand the women better?
A: Of course! I called my sister before the surgery. It had been 11 months since her last mammography. I had an intuitive moment. I called her to do one more mammography. She also appeared to have breast cancer on one side. We both had an operation in the same hospital. Her treatment is still continuing.
Q: What’s the hardest part?
A: Chemotherapy. I would prefer five surgeries to a chemo. A veil falls upon you after you start to take the chemo drugs. You feel that all your receptors are closed. Your energy falters. It’s hard. Thankfully, I didn’t lose my appetite, but I have odor sensitivity now. Even the smell of the sea disturbs you.
Q: Had you ever heard of any other men who had breast cancer?
A: No, I hadn’t. It’s seen only once in every man for 100 women.
Q: How can men have mammograms?
A: They can’t. They have to have a CT scan or an ultrasound check.
Q: Did you learn a lesson from this?
A: A lot. Life is not as long as we think it is. You shouldn’t take it seriously. I took it too seriously; I used to be minute, detail oriented and principled. And here is the result!
Q: How are you now?
A: I look at life much more differently than I used to, because I averted death. My relationship with my children got better. For example, my daughter is with me now. So, the cancer also brought us together.
Q: Is there a subject that you want to warn other men about?
A: Both men and women have to do psychical checks by touching mammaries. If you feel something different, you should immediately go to your doctor. You should also stay away from stress. Slow down a little if your life has a fast pace. I used to skip breakfast and smoke instead. My nutrition was bad, while sleep was absent from my life. You should realize that this life is a gift given to you. You should live it.
Translated by Yunus Yüzsüren