FREDERICKSBURG, Va. – As the radiologist took a tissue sample for a biopsy, Army veteran Boyd Elliott knew by the look on his face that something was wrong, but he was unprepared for the news that came followed.
He had cancer, breast cancer.
All he could think about in that moment, when it seemed like the world had stopped spinning, was that this couldn’t be possible.
“You can’t tell me I have breast cancer, it doesn’t happen to men,” he replied.
The disease is much more common in women, but about one in 100 breast cancers diagnosed in the United States occurs in men, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
One in 8 women will develop the disease in her lifetime, while the rate is 1 in 833 men, according to the American Cancer Society.
When Elliott first noticed a hard lump on his left nipple in October 2020, the Spotsylvania County man “kind of ignored it for about a week, thinking it was going to go away.”
Instead, he seemed to get bigger. He didn’t want to tell anyone, but finally broke down and told his wife, Paula.
“She kicked me in the butt several times and said, ‘You’re going to have it checked out,'” the 75-year-old said.
Now that he’s past the mammogram and biopsy, full mastectomy and year of chemotherapy and other cancer drugs, Elliott is glad he listened to his 55-year-old partner. His cancer was at stage 2 and he learned that the treatment would have been much more complicated if the disease had progressed.
Even so, if his wife hadn’t urged him to see a doctor, would Elliott have continued to ignore what his body was telling him?
“Probably,” he said. “That’s what a man does.”
“Catch It Early”
In men or women, breast cancer “behavior” tends to be the same, according to a 2020 report published on the National Library of Medicine website. It presents as a lump, has the same type of tissue structure, and responds similarly to treatment.
But men tend to have a worse prognosis, the study found, because by the time they see a doctor, the disease has progressed. Sometimes it enters the lymph nodes and spreads throughout the body.
The report noted the lack of awareness among men of efforts to encourage women to have annual mammograms and recognize the signs of breast cancer. Think of the number of pink ribbons placed each October during National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Also, men are embarrassed to say they have breast cancer because, as one US study participant noted, “men don’t have boobs, they have breasts.”
Elliott knows that “the macho part” can surface and that’s why he agreed to be interviewed. He works at the Healthy Generations Area Agency on Aging and the director there, Pat Holland, told him he could help someone else.
“I would like men to know that it can happen and I testify to that,” he said. “If you ever feel anything out of the ordinary, go get it checked out. It might not be a cause for concern, but if it’s something to take care of, grab it. the early.
‘A good, good guy’
Elliott received all of his care at the VA facility in Richmond, Hunter Holmes McGuire Hospital. He underwent other procedures there and got nothing but rave reviews for the medical staff who helped him every step of the way.
While the Department of Veterans Affairs has been criticized in years past for appallingly slow service – to the point where former service members died before they were treated – Elliott said things happened so quickly. that made his head spin.
“It was boom, boom, boom, boom, boom,” he said.
Within five weeks he had his first consultation, had a mammogram and biopsy, had surgery and started chemotherapy – six doses over an eight month period.
The chemo weakened him, took every hair out of his body, left him nauseous at times, and for about a week and a half made everything he ate taste like sugar, which was not not a good thing.
But Elliott, an Army veteran who toured South Korea and worked as a civil engineer, carried on as much as his body allowed.
He was a fleet supervisor at Healthy Generations, supervising a dozen drivers and the agency’s vans, for 13 years.
Her colleagues say her pleasant temperament never changes, not even during the rigors of cancer treatment.
“He’ll do everything he can to make sure everything goes well,” Holland said. “He’s just a good, good guy. I’d like to be 50.”
And that many jars of his famous pickles.
When Elliott went through chemo, his co-workers gave him a blanket to wrap around him and it had a big pickle on it.
“It’s Mr. Pickle,” said operations manager Angie Snyder. “He’s actually King Pickle now because it’s been about three years since he won at the State Fair.”
Elliott has always been a big fan of kosher dill pickles and decided about a decade ago to make his own. He and Paula had a garden and he planted pickled cucumbers and mixed up a recipe he thought would work.
The first batch didn’t taste bad at all, so he made more and started sharing them with friends and co-workers, at church socials, and with his family. He tweaked the ingredients until he got the taste he wanted and people told him he had to show them off at the fair.
He eventually relented, and in 2018 brought a pot to the Fredericksburg Farm Fair, paid a $1 entry fee, and won a blue ribbon and $5 bounty. When people bugged him to go to the State Fair of Virginia, he accepted in 2020 and won the top prize three years in a row.
On the doors of a pickle cabinet, specially made for him by his brother-in-law, are four Fredericksburg ribbons (three first and one second) and the top three State Fair awards.
He won a prize every time he entered. He likes the bragging rights knowing he’s done something people appreciate.
“They’re amazing, spectacular and we look forward to them every time we get them,” Snyder said. “They’re just perfect pickles, they’re tangy and crispy, they have a great flavor, they’re just delicious.”
Elliott donates about half of the 90 pots he makes a year, including one pint each, to the approximately 25 Healthy Generations employees.
“If I didn’t, they’d probably kick me out,” he said, sitting at his desk behind a pencil holder that advertises, “I’m a bit of a big dill.”
Elliott recently reduced his work schedule to three days a week, not because of the cancer scare or his health. He said he felt good. He has diabetes, but it’s well managed.
He would like to have a little more time with the woman who saved his life by making him go to the doctor. Plus, he said he just wanted to “slow down a bit” after three quarters of a century at top speed.
He probably wants to make more pickles.