A survivor’s story: A positive outlook can aid recovery
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Last November, Steve Hayslip noticed something was off. His left nipple suddenly appeared inverted.
Within a week, Hayslip made an appointment, but the doctor wasn’t overly concerned. He said if Hayslip wanted, he could get a mammogram. At the time, he was told it could be as much as $750, which made it cost prohibitive. Hayslip was otherwise healthy, active and a very young looking 64 years old.
So Hayslip, a Steamboat Resort ski patroller for the past 40 years, went on with his usual winter routine.
But, a few months later, he felt a lump behind the nipple. It had developed quickly and felt about the size of a quarter.
Hayslip immediately made another appointment.
Eight days later, he was in surgery to remove his entire left breast and one lymph node.
Before the surgery, he let all his female ski patrol buddies feel the lump. He wanted them to know what a cancerous lump could feel like.
“It didn’t bother me because it was helping them,” said Hayslip.
From beginning to end of the ordeal, Hayslip was very open about the cancer and documented every step in a binder. He remained practical, faced it with optimism and never felt sorry for himself.
“I’ve got some great 8 by 10 glossies of the surgery,” he said. Hayslip knew his experience was rare and wanted others to know breast cancer can happen to men, too.
Less than one percent of people diagnosed with breast cancer are men, said Frannie Johnson, a nurse navigator at UCHealth Gloria Gossard Breast Care Center.
And when men are diagnosed, it is usually at a later stage. The average time frame between a man noticing a change and doing something about it, Johnson said, is about 19 months.
Luckily, Hayslip’s was caught relatively early and hadn’t spread too far.
And, while his diagnosis was unusual, Hayslip is no stranger to cancer.
“I know more than most,” he said.
His mother had breast cancer early in her life and lived for many years after a mastectomy.
His dad died of cancer in 2004, and Hayslip watched him go through chemotherapy. When his dad’s hair started falling out, they went to the barbershop together and “both walked out bald. It was funny as hell.”
Haylsip said he thought about his parents, but he didn’t think about dying.
“I thought about healing,” he said. “I had the surgery — they cut it out, and I thought — okay, what’s the next step?”
The next step was to wait for his score. An Oncotype DX score of 18 or lower indicates a cancer with a low risk of recurrence.
Hayslip’s score was 26.
He’d originally thought he could avoid chemotherapy, but not with that score. So, “Let’s get on with it,” he thought.
Beginning last April, he went in for four rounds of chemotherapy every three weeks. He said the people at the UCHealth Gloria Gossard Breast Care Center made the treatments “seamless.” And the food was great. He still returns to hug his nurses.
Hayslip didn’t notice a lot of changes to how he felt after the first two treatments. His hair did start to come out in tufts early on, so he went into a hairdresser and asked, “Can I have a chemo cut?” She didn’t charge him.
After the third treatment, he gained weight and lost energy. He mostly kept to his routine but sometimes had to slow down, cut back and postpone a few projects.
At one point, six female friends came and cleaned his house top to bottom, and “people lined up to cook food.”
Hayslip said going into the diagnosis healthy only helped his recovery.
“Skiing four or five days a week keeps you healthy,” he said. And he’s always stayed active in the summer doing construction work.
He also attributes a positive outlook to an easier recovery.
Looking back, “I know a lot more about cancer treatment and the disease,” he said. And, he knows how important it is to take the necessary precautions and spend the money if need be. His insurance covered much of the treatment, and during the early out-of-pocket phase, Hayslip was able to get some financial assistance from Bust of Steamboat, which provides $500 per patient for mammograms or other procedures if uninsured or underinsured.
Johnson said the most important message she has for men is simply that they, too, can get breast cancer. They should know what their breast tissue feels like and be aware of any changes, she said. And, family history can play a factor. Financially, “There are resources out there.”
Looking forward, “Life is great,” Hayslip said. “It opened my eyes to a whole other world and what other people are going through.”
His doctor is pleased with how his recovery is proceeding, Hayslip said, but he’ll need to stay vigilant and will continue to go in for checkups every three months. He’s ready for ski season and feeling nearly 100 percent back to his old self.
In terms of advice for others, men and women, “Make sure you know what your body is doing,” Hayslip said. “If you find something out of the ordinary — get it checked out.”
To reach Kari Dequine Harden, call 970-871-4205, email kharden@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @kariharden.
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At one time, cervical cancer was the leading cause of cancer death in women. Now it is one of the most preventable and, if found early, successfully treated cancers.