NINE YEARS AGO, Glenn Percy was just starting to enjoy retirement after 42 years teaching in Echuca.
But fate stepped in with a shock diagnosis.
Cancer. And not just any cancer.
Glenn joined the 1 per cent of men diagnosed with breast cancer.
That’s the bad news, even the shock news. The good news is most men survive breast cancer.
In Australia, 85 per cent of men diagnosed are alive five years later.
But Glenn wants to make it to 10. Which is 12 months away.
“I will get there. I have to,” he said.
After all, the 73-year-old has everything to live for – a wife, two children and two grandchildren.
The retired Echuca Technical School teacher was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer in July 2010 when his wife Karen noticed a small, black circular mole which appeared suddenly near his right nipple.
“I really owe my life to my very observant wife,” Glenn said.
A doctor removed the mole but when the pathology report came back a few days later, he was sent to a Bendigo surgeon who initially removed a larger margin of flesh under local anaesthetic before taking the whole nipple off because ”it was bordering on breast cancer”.
Not feeling overly worried, Glenn and Karen drove up to Queensland the next day to visit their daughter but a phone call from the surgeon had him back in Bendigo in September for a full mastectomy.
Tests found cancer in 14 of the 20 lymph nodes removed.
“I guess it was a shock,” he said.
“I thought I’m a man. It’s not going to happen to me. By this point, I was made very aware of the situation.”
Glenn’s oncologist told him while male breast cancer is rare, it is considerably more aggressive than female.
“They wanted to knock it on the head, so my treatment was pretty intense,” he said.
Glenn started on six cycles of chemotherapy every three weeks. The first three went well, but then he was given the drug Taxotere.
‘‘I felt as though I been hit by a Mack truck and then the mongrel had backed over me,’’ he said.
‘‘It totally wiped me out. I didn’t know who I was for a couple of days. I was a school teacher so for me to feel like that was very frightening and uncomfortable because I wasn’t in control.”
Aching limbs and extreme fatigue led him to wonder if he was reacting normally, but the team at Bendigo’s Peter McCallum cancer centre assured him he was.
After a month, Glenn started on 25 days of daily radiotherapy, which burnt his skin and left him with a large water blister, which burst.
The chemo also left him with numbness in his toes and soles of his feet.
“I’ve learnt to grin and bear it,” he said.
Glenn also developed deep vein thrombosis in his right leg as a result of the chemotherapy, so he had to inject himself twice a day with an anti-clotting drug.
Nine years later and Glenn is still going strong.
“I’m feeling really good,” he said.
‘‘The secret is to stay positive.
“My oncologist told me at the start, ‘There’s two ways this can go. You can give up and you won’t make Christmas or stay positive and talk to positive people and you’ll have a positive outcome.
“I believe that positivity is the key to overcoming my cancer. We just don’t give enough credit to the power of the brain.”
As well as listening to this piece of medical advice, Glenn has also taken his health more seriously.
“I’m more aware of my health and have a lot more compassion for women who are going through breast cancer,” he said.
Glenn highlighted his story as the face of the Echuca-Moama Relay for Life in 2011 and he will do the same as part of his involvement with the Echuca-Moama Pink Up Your Town Committee, where he is one of the volunteers who formed it to raise $20,000 for McGrath breast care nurses and create a visual show of support for local families experiencing breast cancer.
As part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, the committee has planned several activities, including a pink colour run/walk, turning shops pink and a family fun day at Echuca Workers Club on October 18.
“On the night, Australian cricketer Rodney Hogg will be the MC and I will give a five to 10-minute speech about myself and tell men to look at and listen to their bodies and their wives to go home and check their husbands,” he said.
“I’ve been given a second chance at life, so I need to pass on what I’ve learnt.”
And what then when he hits the 10-year cancer free mark next year?
“Have a bit of a celebration and get on with the rest of my life,” he said.