Breast cancer: Decorated soldier joins new battle
FLAGLER BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Underneath the host of medals on Lloyd Freckleton's Army uniform is a scar on his left chest that was not from his service in the Gulf War or Vietnam, but from a new battle in which he's enlisted.
The mission: spreading the word to men that they, too, can get breast cancer.
Feckleton had planned a typical day of golf with his buddies when he Freckleton rolled over to get out of bed and felt something "strange" as his arm brushed against his left chest.
With his right hand, he examined it more closely and thought "it feels like a lump."
He took a shower and went on to play golf. The next day he told his wife he'd wait for his regularly scheduled appointment in a few weeks to check it out. She put her foot down and scheduled an appointment for the same day.
A mammogram followed soon after, then a biopsy and news earlier this year that he had breast cancer. Within weeks of finding the lump, he had a mastectomy removing his left breast and four lymph nodes.
The retired Army colonel and former New York Department of Corrections warden now carries the title of breast cancer survivor.
Freckleton, a Flagler Beach resident who also serves on the board of trustees at Daytona State College, is part of Florida Hospital's Pink Army program helping fellow comrades in the war against breast cancer. As a "Pink Army Soldier," his photo in his Army uniform will be on postcards mailed to thousands of homes in Flagler County to educate residents about breast cancer and screening mammograms.
Normally a reserved and private man who "likes to stay under the radar," Freckleton is speaking out to bring awareness to a disease most commonly associated with women.
'Fact of life'
Being a man and a breast cancer survivor, he said, is just "a fact of life."
"It's just another form of a disease you get. It happens. It just happens to be in a spot that doesn't usually happen in men," Freckleton said.
The American Cancer Society reports about 2,190 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in men this year, accounting for about 1 percent of all breast cancers. For men, the lifetime risk of getting breast cancer is one in 1,000 whereas for women it is about one in eight.
Freckleton, 63, who will take tamoxifen as a preventative measure for five years and get routine CAT scans, tells his golfing friends that they should check themselves "to make sure you don't have lumps because it can happen."
When he was diagnosed in January this year, he had heard "there were rare cases."
"I just felt I was an anomaly," Freckleton said until his wife started researching on the Internet. "I figured I got it. They got it out. Let's move on."
He's glad he listened to his wife and didn't wait to see the doctor.
His wife, Deborah, dean of the Honors College at Bethune-Cookman University and former faculty association president, said "when something comes on your body that is abnormal like that, you need to go get it checked out right away. It's nothing to play around with."
After the biopsy of the more than nickle-size tumor and before the surgery to remove his breast, she said she could tell her husband of 32 years was "troubled" by the news.
"He internalizes. He won't express it, but I could tell," she said.
But then the general surgeon, Dr. Darren Peterson, told him he will be a cancer survivor and able to share his story with others. "That cheered him up," his wife said.
Seeks support group
In a room full of women every third Thursday of the month at Florida Hospital Flagler, Freckleton provides support, listens and gets encouragement in return.
While he said he didn't go through chemotherapy and radiation like many of the women in the breast cancer support group, "I'm one of them. We have a common bond."
The organizer and a member says he lights up the room.
Freckleton, whose vast career includes 21 years at the New York Department of Corrections and combating terrorism while in the Army, said he walked into the support group meeting, sat down and said: "I'm a breast cancer survivor." After sharing his story, he said they all accepted him and "are wonderful people."
He tries to lift their spirits, using humor. When they talk about getting implants, he'll share with the group that he won't be getting them and the women laugh.
He jokes that usually he's the only man among about 25 women "so I'm feeling pretty good."
But on the serious side, he said: "It's about not worrying too much and enjoying life."
"It's all about surviving," Freckleton said.
Martha Rentas, 63, of Palm Coast, also a breast cancer survivor in the support group, said Freckleton "is our little brother. He's very warm and caring in whatever he tells us. He has a very positive attitude."
"He adds that little bit of spice to our pot of people," she added.
When she first joined the group three months ago, she thought Freckleton was someone's husband until he spoke about getting his mammogram.
He's since given her advice on the side effects of tamoxifen, which she has just started after finishing radiation last week.
"We are all different ages and different ethnic backgrounds. Cancer doesn't care how old you are and breast cancer doesn't care if you are a woman or a man," she said.
Judi Hewes, oncology social worker at Florida Hospital Flagler in Palm Coast and facilitator of the breast cancer support group, said the women in the group are very protective of Freckleton when a speaker comes and addresses the group as "ladies." They will reply "and a man."
She said he understands the emotional aspect that women are going through having had the surgery and breast cancer.
"It's just a warm and loving group. There is a lot of laughter and sometimes tears," Hewes said.
Rare, but possible
Deborah Freckleton said she "loves" that he has the support group in his corner. Of being the only man in the group, she said: "I'm quite sure he is tickled about that and getting all that attention from all the ladies there."
"I think it's very important for him to be with other people, and I think it's important that males know they can also get breast cancer," she said. "It's rare, but it's a possibility."
Freckleton's oncologist, Dr. Philip Ndum, of Florida Hospital Flagler, has treated about 10 men with breast cancer in the nine years he has worked locally with another doctor in his practice. He said generally when it comes to men and breast cancer, it "usually is hereditary" with a relative having breast cancer, though that was not the case with Freckleton.
"Outside of the abnormal gene that you can inherit, for most people it's just what I say is bad luck," Ndum said.
For men, he said there is no screening test "because it is so rare." But if a man has a "mass in their breast, it is usually very obvious."
"Men generally have very small chests. If a man finds a lump in any breast, they should bring it up to their primary care doctor," Ndum said.
Freckleton's surgeon, Peterson, sees about one male patient a year with breast cancer.
He said about "99 percent of men think it's a women-only kind of issue. They don't understand there is a small amount of breast tissue that exists in men and a small amount of estrogen that exists in men."
The Freckletons, who moved to Flagler Beach in 1993 from New York, said the support group, cards and prayers from both Daytona State College and Bethune-Cookman University have assisted them in dealing with the news.
Humor has also helped. When Freckleton went to Florida Hospital Flagler to get his mammogram, he said, the staff was "excellent and made me feel comfortable."
He said the technician doing the mammogram joked that he will now know what his wife goes through when she gets one.
"She was funny and made me feel more relaxed," he said.
On a follow-up visit after surgery, his surgeon explained how he had to remove the whole breast as opposed to a lumpectomy. "I looked at him and said, 'Doc, I don't use it anyway so that's OK.' "
Deborah Freckleton said she thinks breast cancer has changed her husband's "perception of life."
"He's a spiritual and Godly person, but he also has a closer relationship with God because that was a life and death situation," she said.
Freckleton said his attitude is "life goes on so you just have to move on and enjoy life."
"Right now, it's just one tick in life, and that happened, and it's over."
"You take things in stride," he added. "One day at a time."