Some people build fences to keep the bad things out. Others build fences to help keep the good things in. Whatever the reason, fences almost always are built for a specific purpose. Strange as it may sound, the purpose of 65-year-old Jerry Troyer’s fence was to fight cancer.
“I have a seven-acre property that I had just started to fence when I was diagnosed with cancer,” Troyer said. “I told myself that my fence project was going to be my cancer therapy,” he added.
Let’s do an experiment. Think of the term “breast cancer.” What were the first images that popped into your mind when you read that? Odds are you thought about a digital mammogram image, something to do with the color pink or someone in your family who has battled the disease. What you very likely didn’t immediately picture in your head was a man. Men probably wouldn’t even rank in the top five words most people would associate with “breast cancer.” Men just aren’t the ones we’ve grown accustomed to thinking about when we hear those words.
There’s a good reason why: male breast cancer is quite rare. So rare, in fact, that its very rarity can be an issue for men who do get diagnosed. Statistically, male breast cancer makes up less than 1 percent of all breast cancers, a fact that leads to many men not considering themselves at risk for the disease and ignoring warning signs. This is what happened to Jerry Troyer.
“I think a lot of men probably ignore breast cancer symptoms that shouldn’t be ignored,” Troyer said. “By the time they go see a doctor, the cancer may have metastasized to their pancreas or liver”
Troyer was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013. He was having a regular skin cancer check when Blount Memorial dermatologist Dr. Patrick Burkhart noticed a lump under his left nipple. Concerned about the abnormality, Burkhart recommended Troyer visit Blount Memorial family medicine physician Dr. Jonathan Greene, who later referred him to Blount Memorial surgeon Dr. Julie Ann Corcoran.
“When Dr. Corcoran saw me, she was concerned, and she acted immediately to schedule me for every conceivable breast cancer test,” Troyer said. “Within about an hour, I had a mammogram, ultrasound and needle biopsy. After all those results were in, I met with Blount Memorial oncologist Dr. Matthew McCarty. I guess that is when it sunk in that I had male breast cancer,” Troyer explained.
“One of the reasons male breast cancer often is found at a later stage is lack of awareness,” said Dr. Julie Corcoran. “Women get breast exams every year, but men don’t. This is why men should check themselves regularly, and always bring anything that looks or feels suspicious to their physicians’ attention,” she explained.
Troyer’s breast cancer was aggressive. He underwent six chemotherapy treatments at the Blount Memorial Cancer Center over the course of 21 weeks. He also had a total mastectomy of his left breast. He now has a six-inch scar across his chest that serves as a daily reminder of his experience. He also has a new fence.
“On those days when I felt too weak to work on it, I would force myself to do it. I wasn’t going to let cancer dictate my life,” Troyer said. “I wanted to live, and I went into this with the attitude that I was going to beat cancer. I was going to win,” he explained.
Troyer completed his treatment, along with 990 feet of “chemo fence.” He now is cancer-free and celebrates each new day by walking at least two miles with his wife Joyce. Together, the couple took part in the 2014 Komen Race for the Cure in Knoxville, something Troyer plans to continue to do for years to come. He credits his doctors for acting quickly when they noticed something was wrong. Diagnosing his cancer early was crucial to his survival.
“Both women and men should be cognizant of their breast health because early detection is the key to beating breast cancer,” Corcoran said. “Jerry Troyer deserves credit for being a fighter from the very moment he found out he had breast cancer. He and his wife have been great advocates for other breast cancer patients. By sharing his story, he’s allowing other men to benefit from it,” she explained.
“I know that cancer will always be on my mind, but now maybe I can help bring male breast cancer awareness to men who thought that it was just a women’s disease,” Troyer said. “At the Race for the Cure, it’s important for people to see a bald guy in a pink survivor’s shirt among all those women,” he explained. “It lets people know, yes, men can have breast cancer, and yes, I am here. I survived,” he added.