TAUNTON, Mass. (AP) — When Taunton’s James McCabe was diagnosed with breast cancer five years ago, as a man he was shocked.
“I never thought of it as a possibility,” said McCabe, a 49-year-old telecommunications manager. “I thought it was something simple like a cyst. I never thought of a male getting breast cancer.”
McCabe, who up to that point was considered relatively active and healthy, then underwent a mastectomy to remove the malignant mass, before being subjected to weeks of draining chemotherapy sessions and then radiation.
He lost his short brown hair during the chemo. He contemplated his mortality and could barely move when the treatment drained his energy for days. But as a way to optimize his health during recovery and remission, McCabe decided to dedicate himself to long-distance running, entering road races and improving his time.
In July 2012, the breast cancer came back again, resulting in surgery to remove several lymph nodes. After the cancer came back, instead of taking a rest, McCabe kept pushing himself by continuing to run during his treatments, then entering several half marathons, with a full marathon on his schedule next week.
“I can’t control the cancer coming back,” McCabe said. “But I had the ability to control the extent of my health. I figured stay conditioned. I got hooked on to running. I enjoy it. It’s like therapy. It’s a physical, as well as a mental thing.”
McCabe ran in the Rock n’ Roll Providence Half Marathon in late September, along with six other half-marathons previously this year. Throughout his second bout with cancer, McCabe ran five miles each morning with his brother and friends before 5 a.m. Next week, he’s set to run in the Bay State Marathon in Lowell, which will be the first marathon of his life.
“Running is also good relief valve from (the stress of cancer),” said McCabe, who set a personal record at 1:39 for the half-marathon. “You’re not worried about it so much. I’m always worried about when my next race is.”
During the Rock n’ Roll Providence Half Marathon, also on the racecourse was one of McCabe’s doctors, radiation oncologist Steven Lane, of the Radiation Center at Signature Healthcare.
“You don’t normally think of a vibrant, relatively young person getting cancer,” said Lane, describing McCabe as fit and active before he was even diagnosed with cancer. “It’s a little bit odd. It goes to show you cancer can strike anywhere.”
According to the National Cancer Institute, less than 1 percent of breast cancer cases are male patients. The mean age of male breast cancer patients is between 60 and 70 years old, but breast cancer can potentially affect all men, the agency said.
So what does McCabe have to say to other men about breast cancer?
“Don’t disregard anything out of the ordinary,” said McCabe, recommending men be aware of any potential lumps. McCabe also said that when he noticed a lump on the right side of his chest in 2008, it got progressively more painful even when something glanced by it.
McCabe said that he really has no clue why he was diagnosed with breast cancer. Looking at his genetics, there was no indication. All the women in his family, including four sisters, were never diagnosed with breast cancer. No matter how it happened, McCabe said he hopes that he has finally outrun the disease.
“I got the short straw on that one,” said McCabe, of the relatively rare cancer diagnosis. “I try not to let it define me. That’s pretty much how I do it nowadays. I don’t look back at what I’ve been through. I just keep going forward and hope for the best.”