Gym injury leads to male breast cancer discovery

Mike Worsham
Mike Worsham

Mike Worsham, a Bartlett pharmacist and Collierville resident, vividly remembers a lucky accident at the gym back in 1998. It stung at the time, but it ended up saving his life.

He was doing dumbbell presses to the point of exhaustion, and he let the equipment down on his chest. One dumbbell raked across his right nipple, and it hurt. He felt a knot there and at first assumed he’d burst a blood vessel. When the knot remained sore for a couple of days, he went to his doctor.

The doctor at first thought it was just a fatty cyst but ordered a mammogram and an ultrasound just to be safe. (For the record, men get mammograms the same way women do, with breast tissue firmly pressed between two surfaces and then scanned. It’s uncomfortable, but possible.)

Both results were suspicious.

A needle biopsy confirmed that Worsham had ductal cell carcinoma. Fortunately, it had not yet spread to any of his lymph nodes.

“God was looking out for me,” he said.

Breast cancer is about 100 times less common among men than among women, according to the American Cancer Society. Men face a lifetime breast cancer risk of about 1 in 1,000. For U.S. men in 2017, the ACS estimates about 2,470 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed, and about 460 men will die from breast cancer.

Finding out that he was one of those rare cases was a shock for Worsham, who said there’s no family history of the disease.

Then he thought, “Let’s get on with this and do what we’ve gotta do.”

He took a month off work and had a modified radical mastectomy. Then he went through six regimens of chemotherapy, each three weeks apart. The chemo experience is a familiar story for him and many other cancer survivors: Each treatment took about four days for the worst of the nausea to pass, and by the time he felt well again it was time to have another treatment.

Nevertheless, he stayed at his job throughout the chemo, working at a Bartlett home infusion pharmacy. He also took Tamoxifen for five years afterward to help prevent a recurrence of cancer.

He’s only had one minor run-in with lymphodema, a complication where excessive fluid collects in tissue affected by the surgery. It’s a common side effect for many patients. For him, it was in his right arm and he only experienced it about a year and a half ago when he had right shoulder replacement surgery. He recognized the signs and got quick treatment.

Now a healthy cancer survivor, he gets an annual mammogram routinely. He teases the people who run the screening center he uses, because they eventually asked him to come in at lunchtime because it made some women patients uncomfortable for a man to be there.

“Oh, I gave them grief about that,” he said, chuckling. “I said, ‘You think THEY’RE uncomfortable?’”

In the early years after his diagnosis, Worsham worked to help other men cope with the disease. He was an active volunteer in Reach to Recovery, a program with the American Cancer Society that matches up survivors to new patients with similar diagnoses and experiences. He’s also taken part in various cancer awareness events and the Collierville Relay for Life over the years, and he’s returning to such events now after taking a breather for a while.

Having cancer also has given him a new perspective on what a gift life is. Worsham recalled something a friend told him before his diagnosis: He was at the gym one day, grumbling about having a terrible day because it was too rainy to golf. That’s when his gym buddy told him, “I used to think that until I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Now they’re all good days – you just might not get to do what you planned.”

He recalled that wisdom when he was working through his own illness and in the years since. “It’s 20 years later, and I still remember it.”

His advice to people these days is to keep a close eye on their health. “Pay attention to anything that’s a little abnormal, and get physicals. Get the screenings that you need, that are recommended.”

Aside from that, he doesn’t let his cancer experience define or limit his life. “A serious illness will always affect your life, but don’t let it control it.”

Worsham continued, “What’s gonna happen is gonna happen. You just take care of yourself, and it’s not really affected me at all. I have been blessed. Totally blessed.”