When this column goes to press, I will be in the waiting room of a women’s hospital. Probably with Mary Monroe’s new novel, “Love, Honor, Betray” or maybe a crochet project bag beside me. I will need something to keep me occupied for most of the morning. Something that will keep my mind focused on anything other than what is happening in the surgical center. On this day my husband will be undergoing a mastectomy which means his oncology surgeon will remove his breast, his nipple, and if test results are positive that there is cancer present in them, his lymph nodes, in turn, transforming the operation to a radical mastectomy. My husband was diagnosed with HER-2 negative breast cancer in late October of last year. The diagnosis came after a lengthy process of going to different doctors with our concerns about a small lump the size of a pea in his right breast. The tiny lump was discovered after an evening spent at the gym lifting weights. Most men with breast cancer may be able to actively feel a lump after exercising because the lump will be found behind the muscle tissue. After weight lifting the pulsating of the muscles from exercise could cause a bit of pain or noticeable discomfort that upon investigation may reveal the lump.

At first, the lump could be identified as a burst blood vessel which does occur in weight training. But there are other significant signs that should not be ignored such as nipple changes or nipple retraction, discharge from nipple, redness of breast skin or nipple, and skin dimpling or puckering. It is possible to have all of the signs, or like my husband, only two which was the lump, and soon after, nipple retraction.

The most important thing to do if a man notices suspicious changes is to find a doctor willing to run a series of tests to find out what is happening. It could be nothing. Then it again, it could be something and early detection is optimum. We went to several doctors before the last doctor ordered the right tests that would detect breast cancer. I think that the previous doctors were not aware that men can develop breast cancer, because in this country we are primarily speaking of women’s breast cancer. Breast cancer in men, on average, occurs in 1 percent of the U.S. population. So doctors are not necessarily exploring it as a possible diagnosis, which has led to male mortality rates 25 percent higher than that of women with breast cancer. After almost a year of going from doctor to doctor, when the final diagnosis was received, my husband was living with stage three aggressive HER 2 negative breast cancer.

We knew that this journey was going to be a long, arduous one. My husband’s second oncologist informed us that in order to beat this cancer, his treatment plan would be a yearlong process. Step one was six rounds of chemotherapy. My great Aunt May Belle suffered from breast cancer in the ’70s, and a recurrence in the late ’80s, so I was already aware of chemotherapy and its side effects. Or at least that is what I thought.

Chemo affects everyone differently. Most people know that chemotherapy breaks down and kills the cells that promote hair growth, thus the chemo hair loss. Did you know that chemotherapy breaks down EVERY fast-growing cell in the human body, like for instance, your fingernails? By round three of chemotherapy, my husband’s fingertips were numb, and the finger and toenails began to die. It looked as if he had slammed both his hands and feet in a steel car door. I laboriously soaked them in hydrogen peroxide like Madge from the classic Palmolive commercials.

Chemotherapy zapped every bit of strength my husband had, and not having an appetite became a curse and a test of wills between him and me. I made sure that everything he ate was nutritious even though I would find Snicker and Jolly Rancher wrappers in the bathroom trash or on his nightstand, Faygo Red Pop under the bed, Chili and Cheese Fritos, and Honey Mustard pretzels in my gold gilded sunburst platter centerpiece on the living room table. My husband remained active, or as active as the chemotherapy allowed him to be, until a week ago when he made the decision at my behest to go on short-term disability in preparation for his surgery. The consultation with the surgical oncologist was very enlightening and along with my husband and me, my two adult sons tagged along for the conference. I thought that was important because I want them to be as educated as possible about male breast cancer.

And here we are. Six rounds of chemo in the rear-view window. Step one. Mastectomy facing us. Step two. Six to eight weeks of recovery in the future. Step three. That is how I am viewing my husband’s cancer journey. In steps. Or in increments. It is difficult because even I want to jump to the part where we are enjoying our family reunion this summer in Detroit, or relaxing in The Keys in November. Sometimes, I too get caught up in daydreaming.

However, here and now in this waiting room, in this hour, is where I am supposed to be. My focus is on the surgeon’s hands and my prayer is that in a few hours, my husband will be comfortable and recovering in his hospital bed, with his family surrounding him. That is all that I can ask for at this time.

The Family of Howard E. Foster has established a Go Fund Me page to assist with his breast cancer treatment and expenditures: Howard’s Fight: gofund.me/44418f98