by Peter Platt
Ottawa (Canada) Police Service (Retired)
Founder and Editor
Badge of Life Canada
I have been, to say the least, on a very strange and wonderful journey since I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder 19 years ago. And you are probably asking yourself why I say wonderful, considering PTSD is horrible mental disorder……..
I was numb. That is the only word I can think of to describe how I felt about being told that I had breast cancer. I felt that I was just handed a death sentence when my doctor informed me that the small lump in my chest was cancer. Men don’t get breast cancer, women do. At least that’s what I thought until I was told that I had that dreaded disease on the 14th of July 2011, a date I will never forget as long as I live.
My story starts one evening in early May of 2011 as I was watching TV with my wife Cathy. I was scratching an itch on my left breast, just above the nipple and as I scratched the area I felt a small lump. It felt odd, but I really wasn’t too concerned. But at the insistence of Cathy, I contacted my doctor the next morning.
I met my doctor on May 13. She examined the area and told me it was probably nothing, but I would have to go for some tests. She told me that only about 1% of breast cancer cases are men —with that, I told myself I was going to be OK; I was certain I would be in the 99% category.
Over the next few weeks, I underwent an ultrasound, a mammogram and a biopsy. On July 14 my doctor told me what I didn’t want to hear–that the biopsy results had shown the tumour to be malignant (an Infiltrating Ductal Carcinoma). Never, beginning at that moment, had I felt so frightened. As a male, so traditionally guarded with my feelings, I looked desperately around the examining room, wondering what to do with the waves of panic and weakness that swept over me. I was alone, I felt, alone in not knowing anyone, any female, let alone any male who had breast cancer. As I struggled to keep a grip on these feelings, my doctor told me that she was going to refer me to the Women’s Breast Health Centre at the Civic Hospital.
On September 1 I had a complete mastectomy and sentinel lymph node removal. Then came another struggle, the stress of waiting. After two seemingly endless weeks, I was told even more news that I wanted to shout away, that the cancer had gone into the sentinel lymph node. This meant I had to have another operation, called an Axillary Lymph Node Dissection, which was performed on October 17.
I was an Ottawa Police officer for 25 years and faced many life threatening situations throughout my career. I had dealt with those the best way I could. They had come and gone, leaving their scars, and after many years in battle I became severely disabled with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. With help, I had learned to manage it. I had come out of the darkness, but now it seemed I was entering an even darker and stranger world of phantoms, deadly cells that played a dreadful game of hide-and-seek with the body. Unlike dealing with criminals on the streets, I was not sure how I was going to deal with this deadly, elusive disease.
On October 31 I was informed by my surgeon that in the second operation she had removed approximately 20 lymph nodes. Two of the nodes had been completely affected, but one only had a microscopic trace of the cancer. The prognosis was good. I was referred to the cancer centre for treatment.
My loving wife Cathy, from the very beginning has been a wonderful, strong support. She has attended every appointment with me, every test that I had to take and both surgeries. She has given me strength to carry on. Is it easy for her? It is often said that, for those not suffering the disease and caring for a loved one, the pain is of a different vein—and the vein is equally deep. I know it has not been easy for her and I love her dearly for helping me through this trying time in my life.
I have also been blessed with the support of women who have had breast cancer and are survivors, as well as women who are now fighting the disease and are going through treatment and support from friends and from strangers. Additional support has come from the wonderful staff at the Women’s Breast Health Centre at the Civic Campus of the Ottawa Hospital. I am also in a breast cancer support group at the Health Centre. There are eight to 10 women in the group–and me, the only male. I was concerned about being accepted in the group but my fears were unfounded as I was accepted from the first meeting.
How much did I concern myself about a distant, life threatening disease like breast cancer? I was never concerned as I did not know I could fall prey to this horrible disease. I contributed when asked to breast cancer research and awareness drives, and thought nothing of doing self-exams. “Only one percent,” I recall the doctor reassuring me. Yet, I was that one percent. I thought, “Where is the public awareness for men about breast cancer?”
For Peter Platt, author of this article, one percent has become a large statistic. Not only do I have a greater appreciation for breast cancer as a whole for both sexes, I now find myself thinking of the simple steps we can take to prevent so many “small statistics” from doing us harm. Education – greater public awareness of course, is the key, whether it is on the importance of self-breast exams, regular checkups, or maintaining healthy lifestyles.
I started my chemo therapy on the 18th of November at the Cancer Centre in Ottawa and I was not to sure what to expect. I found the nurses were very caring and truly dedicated to their patients and I left feeling very positive about the whole experience.
The past 12 months have dramatically changed my life. My outlook on life is truly much more positive than it has been in many years and it has taken cancer to make this happen, that and the support of many people who I know and many people who I have become friends with over the past 12 months.
Things happen for a reason.
About the Author: Peter is a 25 year veteran of the Ottawa Police Service who was severely disabled with PTSD in 1992. In 2005, he joined a registered charitable service dog training organization in Ottawa and, from 2006 through to December 2009, he was a board member and Director of Client Services, Disabilities Advisor and an advocate for persons with disabilities. In 2008/2009, he gave presentations to a trauma councillor’s class at local college about PTSD. In March 2009 he started working with Veterans Affairs Canada, Operational Stress Injury Social Support as a trained volunteer peer helper & group facilitator for veterans with PTSD. In January 2010, Peter became volunteer Disabilities Advisor of the new Assistance Dogs Division of Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind. In December 2010 he also became a volunteer for the Military Family Resource Center in Ottawa. Peter is a proud member of the Ontario Police Association, Ottawa Police Association and the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners. Peter believes all police agencies in the country should have the resources readily available to help officers who have become disabled with PTSD. As well, to assist officers who develop PTSD subsequent to their retirement. Peter is Editor and Founder of the Badge of Life Canada.
Badge of Life Canada is partnered with the Badge of Life in the USA and is dedicated to the education of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) & The Prevention of Police Officer Suicide.