LUDLOW FALLS — For Ben Keiser of Ludlow Falls, the diagnosis was stunning.
He’d suspected something wasn’t right for a while. He’d noticed a lump in his chest that came and went, but he dismissed it, hoping “it was just a cyst.”
But once he started to experience pain — like when his dog jumped up on hist chest in just the right way — he made an appointment with a doctor.
When the doctor told him it was breast cancer, he was shocked.
“It was just unreal,” he recalled.
According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the federal government’s cancer research agency, male breast cancer makes up less than 1 percent of all cases of breast cancer.
Keiser quickly moved forward with treatment. While his doctors didn’t tell him what stage his cancer was at first, he later found out he had a stage three tumor. He was lucky to have caught it when he did, he said.
“The doctor said it’s the tip of a pinhead, that’s how big the cells are. It takes five or six million of those to show up. He said I had this in my body for five or six years,” Keiser said.
Keiser underwent a mastectomy in 2015. The doctors removed breast tissue and 15 lymph nodes, six of which turned out to be cancerous. Surgery was followed up with chemotherapy and radiation treatment.
Throughout his treatment, Keiser kept working and continued to volunteer for the Ludlow Falls Fire Department.
Telling the department about his breast cancer diagnosis was “the hardest thing I’d ever done,” he said.
He recalled asking them to keep him on the department despite his health.
“I said, ‘Please don’t make me go away,’” Keiser said. “I spent a lot of nights (at the department) just thinking, because I wasn’t sure what was going to happen.”
With his experience driving semi trucks, Keiser was able to stay on with the department driving the tanker when he felt well enough. Now two years out from surgery and one year after finishing radiation, he’s still not quite back to fighting fires, he said.
During National Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, when there are pink ribbons everywhere, Keiser admitted he sometimes feels a little left out as a male breast cancer survivor.
“They don’t ever talk about the men,” he said.
But Keiser volunteers with Relay for Life to raise money and to raise awareness for other survivors.
While breast cancer among men is rare, Keiser said he asked the staff at Upper Valley Medical Center how many other men were in treatment for it.
“I asked and they actually said they see one or two men a week,” he said. “You don’t ever hear about it.”
He urged other men to keep an eye on their health and to remember that breast cancer can happen to anyone.
“Don’t be afraid to speak out and seek help,” he said.
Reach Cecilia at firstname.lastname@example.org.