By Rod Ritchie
Cancer did not seem overwhelming in my family. My mother died of breast cancer at age 42, but there were no other cancers to speak of until March 2014, when I was diagnosed with Stage 3B breast cancer. I had a mastectomy of my left breast, 18 weeks of chemotherapy and 33 doses of radiation. I also took Tamoxifen for five years. In the middle of treatment, in July 2014, I was referred to a genetic counselor and testing revealed I had a BRCA1 Variant of Unknown Significance. It is hard to know what to do with that diagnosis.
Some people receive a genetic test result called a “variant of uncertain significance” or “VUS.” This means that at the time of testing, the laboratory cannot determine whether the gene change is harmful and increases risk of cancer, or if it is a harmless variant which does not affect cancer risk. Over time, as research on different variants continues, sometimes the lab can determine whether or not these changes are mutations.
Cancer struck again in November 2016 when I was diagnosed with Stage 2B prostate cancer. After this diagnosis and surgery, I had full panel genetic testing but, again, “nothing unusual” was found.
I am currently NED for both cancers.
Since my testing, only one of my three brothers and my two adult children have elected to be tested. My brother’s test result was negative for a BRCA mutation. I am grateful for that, but still frustrated that my result was ambivalent and that it was useless for clinical decisions.
FORCE has been a good resource for me. I am easily able to keep up-to-date on the latest research. It gives me comfort knowing that there are people out there looking after my genetic situation. It is so important to stay well informed. Knowledge is power.
As a patient advocate, I reach many men with breast cancer. I was happy to be able to contribute to FORCE’s post-mastectomy photo gallery by asking men to volunteer their photos.
My personal medical future is uncertain, but I have the knowledge and the resilience to cope with anything that comes my way. For more information on male breast cancer, you can visit my website.
Rod Ritchie, BRCA1 VUS Breast and Prostate Cancer Survivor