This is part I of a series on local breast cancer survivors to highlight Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
For Ron Bush, being a man means being there for your family.
“My mom and dad separated when I was about eight or nine years old. Even with the differences that they may have had, I could count the times on one hand that I didn’t see my father every single day,” he said.
“Up until the day that he died, he was there for us. We knew that every single day, that taxi cab was going to pull up to our door, and he was going to blow the horn, and the four of us were going to run out and get in that taxi cab, and he was going to drive us around for a couple of hours, taking us out to the carry outs to get fish sandwiches, taking us to ball games, or whatever it was, he was always there for us. My father’s example was my example to be a dad to my kids.”
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Thirteen years ago, Phyllis Hayes had just built her dream house in Indianapolis. Recently divorced, she loved her job. She had promised herself she would never get married again. Then her neighbor, Bill, introduced her over the phone to a friend of his.
“You won’t be disappointed,” Bill told her.
The friend was Ron Bush.
“We talked for three hours. We became friends, and I fell in love with him. I shared things with this man that I never even mouthed, even to my sister, no one knew. I trusted him totally. He was the last voice I heard when I went to sleep at night. He was the first voice I heard in the morning. I’m in love. All my friends thought I had totally lost my mind.”
After several months, Ron flew to Indianapolis. The pair met face to face in the airport. When they ate out, Ron pretended not to notice Phyllis’ girlfriends walking by their table and checking him out. The approval rate was overwhelmingly positive. Later, Ron took Phyllis to meet his mom three hours away in Columbus, Ohio.
Phyllis felt right at home.
Ron and Phyllis recently celebrated their 10th anniversary. They have been there for each other through a lot over those years. The only fight they’ve engaged in has been against a common enemy – breast cancer.
What follows is a public service announcement from the two of them to all men and the women who love them:
Guys, you have breasts.
The mere suggestion can be uncomfortable, but it’s time to stop struggling against the facts. The American Cancer Society projects that 2,240 new cases of invasive male breast cancer will be diagnosed this year in the United States, and 401 men will die of the disease.
Phyllis recalls the day she found the lump on Ron’s chest.
“I was just sitting there one day and just thanking him for being such a wonderful husband, and I’m just running my hand across his chest, you know, and – I felt this knot. I said, ‘Honey, this is a knot. What’s this?’ and he said, ‘It’s nothing. There’s nothing there, Phyllis.’”
Phyllis urged Ron to get the knot checked for breast cancer. Ron initially balked at the idea, but Phyllis was adamant, insisting to her husband that he did, indeed, have breasts, and that he should speak to his doctor about the knot.
Unless something is broken or falling off, a lot of men will avoid seeing their doctors, Ron Bush says, and he emphasizes that avoiding your health is not a sign of masculine strength.
“I was in denial, and rather than do some research and look it up, I’m going back and forth with my wife. ‘Honey, I don’t have breasts. Men don’t have breasts.’ It just so happened that that month, I was scheduled for my annual physical. For more serious doctor visits, we always go together. If she’s going through something that we need some answers to, we go together. If I go through something that we need some answers to, we go together. We need to know how to minister to one another – but this was my annual physical. She doesn’t go on my annual physical.”
“I made him promise that he would have the doctor check out this little lump,” Phyllis said.
“And I promised I would. And she said, ‘Yeah, right.’ And so she jumps in the car with me.”
At the end of Ron’s physical, after he had gotten a clean bill of health, Phyllis felt she had to speak up. The doctor examined the lump on Ron’s chest and sent him downstairs to radiology for more tests. Ron had a mammogram, an ultrasound and a biopsy and five days later a telephone call: “Positive for aggressive breast cancer,” he remembers.
Ron had already supported Phyllis in her own fight against breast cancer, and now he saw the same surgeon who had performed her surgeries.
“’I’m glad that you listened to your wife. We’ve caught it early. You’re going to live to be a ripe old man,’” he remembers his doctor saying.
Ron went through mastectomy surgery in January 2009. He saw his clinical oncologist regularly, and about a month ago she told him he was cancer free.
“We’re just thanking and praising God for our healing. Both of us are cancer free, and we are advocates for breast cancer awareness, not only for women, but for people, and men also. That experience taught us that early detection is the key here,” Ron said.
“Phyllis said it best: ‘We’ve got to take control.’”
Early detection saves lives, but detection requires diligence and action. Ron fought breast cancer with a strong team in his corner – Phyllis’s experience and persistence, plus his health care providers’ thorough analysis, gave him a definite advantage over the disease.
That is not always the way the story plays out.
Phyllis, for example, visited her doctor twice with concerns about a skin irritation on her breast and was told it was nothing. It turned out to be Paget’s disease, a rare type of skin cancer affecting the nipple and areola.
“Then it got really bad. That’s when you have to take a stand for yourself,” she said.
“You have to be mindful of your body. You’ve got to know your body, and we as women, we know when something feels different, and we know when it doesn’t feel right,” Phyllis emphasized.
“You have to have the right perspective of what a doctor is,” Ron suggests.
“I look at a doctor as a tool, the same way I look at a hammer if I want to drive a nail. That doctor is there to help you take care of yourself. If I went to my doctor and I wasn’t sure of their diagnosis or of what they’re telling me, I would get a second opinion. We’ve got to take control of our health. We’ve got to do those things to take care of ourselves. I know when something’s not right in me,” he said.
“And I do too, and you do too,” Phyllis told her husband.