RICHMOND HEIGHTS, Ohio – Charles Thomas never thought it could happen to him, but as he was going to bed one evening, he made a startling discovery.
“I was lying in bed one night, after I was taking a bath, I was rubbing lotion on and I felt a knot in my right breast,” Charles said. “I told my wife, ‘Feel this,’ and she did and she said, ‘Tomorrow, you’re going to the doctor.’”
It was spring 2007. Charles and his wife, Lillie, went to the hospital, where he was eventually diagnosed with stage three breast cancer. Charles was 73 years old.
“I wasn’t afraid,” said Charles, now 78, of Lima. “My doctor told me the options. He told me we can fight this and said you’ve got to be positive with your attitude toward this cancer and you’re going to beat it and I believe that.”
After a lumpectomy, radiation and about a year of chemo treatments, Charles said things were improving, though at times he wanted to give up.
“I just want to go in a room and shut the door. I didn’t want to be bothered by anybody,” Charles said. “I remember at Christmas, the family was all there and I just burst out crying, and I said, ‘Oh, God. Either make me well or let me die.’ I never thought I’d say that, but I got well.”
He managed to grit through the painful treatments and hair loss, but at Charles’ annual exam, he received another blow.
“My doctor told me cancer is coming into your left breast now,” Charles said. “You need to do something right away, and I said let’s do it, and they took my breast off. They took both breasts off.”
Charles said his wife and nine kids, especially his son Tony Williams, of Richmond Heights, had been by his side the whole time.
“When you hear that word, ‘cancer,’ that’s the first thing that comes to mind: ‘I’m about to lose my dad,’ and I didn’t want to,” Tony said. “And the second diagnosis was even harder.”
Tony couldn’t fathom what would happen next.
“Just joking around, I said maybe I’ll just check myself, and I was standing there, I felt a lump,” Tony said. “And then I felt like my world was crashing down. I was scared.”
Tony immediate consulted a doctor, but it would take weeks before he would find out the results: that his tumor was benign.
Now, Tony continues to check his breasts every day, and he also visits the doctor for an annual wellness exam.
“I just want men to think about it,” Tony said. “Don’t think that you’re beyond cancer ever. Sometimes it can be there and you wouldn’t even know it.”
Charles, who still bears dark chemotherapy burns on his cheeks, agrees. It’s a disease that does not discriminate.
“I was naïve,” Charles said. “I didn’t think men got breast cancer and that’s a woman’s disease, but I’m here to prove that we do. Examine yourself. That’s how I found it, and I’m glad I did.”