2015 holds some of my most difficult memories.
It's when my sister, Sheryl, died of metastatic breast cancer at age 34 -- just three years after she was diagnosed with the disease and tested positive for the BRCA2 mutation, which we hadn't known was in our family.
And it's when my wife, Rachel, tested positive for the BRCA1 mutation, spurring her to immediately schedule a series of preventive surgeries including a bilateral mastectomy and hysterectomy. They took place shortly after the second of our two children were born.
I was simultaneously grieving for my only sibling, mustering the strength to care for Rachel and our daughters and trying to learn about hereditary cancer. I was fortunate to have an outpouring of love, help and understanding from family, friends and colleagues. I found an excellent therapist and discovered anti-anxiety medication.
But I was missing something: support from men who had been through something like what I was going through.
Rachel had attended local FORCE support meetings, but it didn't occur to either of us that I -- someone who had tested negative for the BRCA mutations but was the primary caregiver -- could benefit, too.
The more I learned about FORCE, the more I felt like it was the right place for me to start giving back, by helping men who were looking for support -- ranging from how to help a spouse or family member, to trying to understand their own risk or sorting through the various other tough choices that confronted them.
Over the last four years, I've volunteered as a Peer Navigator and State Impact Leader, providing a listening ear and resources to men throughout North America and in the Washington, D.C., metro area. I attended FORCE's conference in San Diego in 2018, connecting with people from far and wide and learning a great deal more about the latest in hereditary cancer. I've advised a professor on her research project aimed at better educating men about hereditary cancer. And during an era where much has gone virtual, I'm working with FORCE on ways to expand our support to men.
My goal is simple. I want to assure any man dealing with hereditary cancers: You are not alone. And for anyone else: If you have a male spouse or partner, father, son, brother or other family member or loved one who could benefit from support, I and other FORCE volunteers are here for them.
Ultimately, I want to provide people with the awareness, knowledge and extra emotional support to navigate these trying circumstances -- support that people often don’t know is just what they need.
The kind of support that could have helped me in 2015.