Male Breast Cancer survivor Brooks Gooch shares his battle and recovery
When thinking of breast cancer, almost everyone attributes it as a disease which only females are prone to receiving a diagnosis for.
From pink ribbons and balloons down to the ink used to provide educational materials, a simple online search yields thousands of images which are geared toward awareness for females.
It is statistically proven that females are in fact more prone to be diagnosed with breast cancer at the ratio of one in eight, but in no way does this mean males are not at risk, but the risk factors are lower.
For Sharp County resident Brooks Gooch, he said it never occurred to him he would be told he was a male breast cancer patient when he visited with his physician for an annual check up in 2014.
“I went in to see Doc Tucker [Charles Tucker] and I almost didn't say anything. I told him I had these knots on my breast and he jumped up, felt them and said we needed to get me to a surgeon,” Gooch said.
At the time of his diagnosis, Gooch was 74-years-old and hearing “you have cancer” did not shake him as some might expect.
“For some reason I wasn't surprised and it didn't effect me as much as it did my wife [Beverly Gooch]. She was quite concerned and I just felt like what will be will be, it's between me and Jesus,” Gooch said.
Now 80, with a clean bill of health, Gooch reflects on the timeline and aspects of treatment which stood out to him.
“I went to see the surgeon and he did biopsies and the results came back and said I had cancer. We scheduled surgery, more testing and I think he removed most of the lymph gland on the right side because he actually took out tissue under my arm on the right side,” Gooch said.
Gooch said he was never told at what stage his cancer was in, but was relieved he didn't have to undergo chemo.
“It was a quick process and it was one thing right after another. It was November of that year when they found it and November of that same year when they dealt with it,” Gooch said.
Although able to avoid chemotherapy, Gooch was still placed on medication, which is traditionally given to breast cancer survivors to reduce risk of reoccurring breast cancer.
“After surgery, I went to a doctor who had me on a pill, it's the same one women take usually for 10 years, but I took it it for five. I took quarterly blood tests and in February of this year, I took my last pill,” Gooch said.
When reflecting on the past several years, Gooch said he was given an informational pamphlet most of which was geared toward females.
“When I got the pills and the paperwork, I had things that normally women experience. I got to reading the slip that came with it and males are only mentioned in there one time. Everything else in it relates to females and the next time I saw the doctor I said what is with this pill, it doesn't mention men in the pamphlet. He looked at me kind of funny and asked 'What?' and I told him... I'm having hot flashes,” Gooch said, laughing as he recalled the conversation.
Medication aside, Brooks said there were other conversations which stuck out to him as he navigated his way through and to becoming a breast cancer survivor.
One story he shared was of a conversation with one of his wife's sorority sisters who asked if Gooch would have reconstructive surgery to replace his breast.
“I paused.. and said.. no, I don't think so,” Gooch said.
During his battle with cancer, Gooch said it didn't slow him down much. He remained active in his many volunteer activities including upkeep of the old boy scout camp in Cherokee Village and teaching youths firearm safety and shooting.
“It was between me and Jesus, I never thought about slowing or stopping. I'm slowing down now all these years later because I'm getting older,” Gooch said.
When asked if he had ever considered it could be breast cancer, Gooch said he had not and almost didn't ask his doctor about what was going on with his chest.
“It never bothered me. Every once in a while I'd get an itch and feel the bumps, but I never thought about it. When I went in for my annual checkup, one of the things I always had him check for was the possibility of lead in my blood. I melt lead and cast bullets. I don't let my lead get hot enough to vaporize, so I'm not breathing it in, but it would be possible of handling it and hand to mouth. My blood work was always normal,” Gooch said. “He had checked everything out and it was at the end of the visit. We were almost done and I said, oh by the way, on my chest here I have knots... He didn't waste any time and the next thing I knew, I was in Batesville in an office near the hospital for a biopsy.”
When asked if he had noticed any type of stigma from speaking about his experience, he said he had received strange looks from other men.
“When I have mentioned having breast cancer and having it removed, I get strange looks from men. In that respect, I can see where men would shy away from admitting they have a problem and I didn't even know I had a problem. I had a couple knots and they were about the size of a sweet pea,” Gooch said.
He also shared a story of searching for a loofa at an area department store to use in order to properly prepare for his surgery.
“A funny thing that happened, I'm in the hospital and when I was ready to go in, the doctor gave me a prescription for a specific type of soap. I had to go to the pharmacy to get it and get a loofah. When I went to buy the stuff, I picked up the drug and the soap and asked where to find the sponges,” Gooch said. “A lady told me where to go so I turn the corner and the first one I see is this bright pink loofah. I picked it up and she had come around the end of the isle by that point. She looked at me a little sideways and asked if I was sure that was the one I wanted. I told her I was going in for something that's normally considered a female problem. She apologized and we laughed about it.”
On any given day, you will likely see Gooch wearing a ball cap with a very unique patch across the front. It is not a ribbon or cancer awareness piece in the traditional sense, but rather an inside joke and reminder of the things Gooch had overcome.
“When I was going in for surgery, I'd told Rob Driesel and he came to see me in the hospital. So, He brings me this Hello Kitty coloring book, takes my picture and puts it on Facebook,” Gooch said.
At the time, Gooch's son was stationed in Kuwait and had seen the photo. After returning to the U.S., Gooch said his son had brought him a Hello Kitty patch.
“He comes back from his tour and it's not just any patch. It's Hello Kitty holding an AK [firearm] and it is on my cap,” Gooch said grinning.
All kidding aside, Gooch said he knows he was fortunate he that he mentioned the knots on his chest to the doctor and said he would encourage other men to be aware of their health.
“If you think something is wrong, there's no harm in asking your doctor to check it out,” Gooch said.