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Freddie Reeder - One man's survival story

October 15, 2007|By MEG PARTINGTON

BOONSBORO - Freddie Reeder prides himself in being unique.

"I AM different," the Boonsboro resident said with a smile. But being among the statistically few men who have battled breast cancer is one unusual quality he could do without.

For every 100 women diagnosed with breast cancer, one man is diagnosed, said Dr. Frederic H. Kass III, medical director of the John R. Marsh Cancer Center in Hagerstown.

Reeder's diagnosis came in October 1997 after he found a lump on his left breast. The spot stung a bit that day, but never did again.

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A doctor's appointment the next day led to two biopsies, the first of which was inconclusive. The second showed the presence of cancer cells.

"I'm ASAP here, ASAP there," the 63-year-old Reeder said in describing the swiftness with which Washington County doctors treated him.

Reeder immediately had a mastectomy and six lymph nodes removed, none of which contained cancer.

"That's when I thought I was home free," said Reeder, whose mother died in 1964 of breast cancer at the age of 48.

"If I had known it was going to be that simple," Reeder said of his mastectomy, he would have had the other breast removed at the same time.

He had no significant health problems for nearly nine years. Then, on Sept. 11, 2006, he noticed swelling on the right side of his neck, near his shoulder.

Doctors found breast cancer cells in one of his lymph nodes and promptly removed it.

"They haven't messed around," Reeder said.

From September to February 2007, he took Arimidex, a hormone pill, once a day.

Then, in February, he was experiencing pain in his back, sometimes so extreme that he needed help getting out of bed.

Because his first bout of cancer was pain-free, other than the day he discovered the lump, he didn't think the disease had returned.

"This, I had pain, big-time," Reeder said.

A bone scan and MRI showed two cancerous tumors on the vertebrae in his back.

In March, Reeder had 10 radiation treatments over two weeks. He was taken off Arimidex and instead started getting shots of Faslodex, another form of hormone therapy, every 28 days.

In mid-May, he underwent a vertebroplasty, during which bone cement is injected into vertebrae to prevent collapse that can be caused by osteoporosis or cancer.

"Is it ever going to stop?" Reeder said he wondered, since he has been in and out of doctors' offices so much after nine years of good health.

Reeder's wife, Margaret, shares his frustration.

"The first time, it was so fast and easy, we forgot about it," she said. Now, "everything just doesn't end. You can't plan anything."

Freddie Reeder said his wife has had to endure more than he has during his bouts with cancer.

"I'm just hateful," he said of his personality when he's not feeling well - even sometimes when he's well, he and his wife joked. "I have been miserable, I know I have," he said, glancing out a large window in the kitchen of the home he shares with Margaret.

Freddie Reeder is a fighter, though, and is intent on spreading the word that men can get breast cancer.

For about a year after his mastectomy, he often wore shirts with pockets over the left breast so it wouldn't be obvious that breast was gone. Now he has no problems baring his chest at the beach.

"I'm not embarrassed about anything," he said.

And he's not afraid to speak out.

Freddie tells other men, "feel yourself and check all the time. I still check myself," he said. He also has a mammogram every year.

He has participated every year since 1998 in Breast Cancer Awareness - Cumberland Valley Inc.'s annual Step 'n' Stride event, a five-mile walk around the Hagerstown Community College campus. He has raised about $1,100 per year for that event, which he does with his niece, Wendy Murphy of Williamsport.

"She's a good girl," he said.

Some of the paths Freddie Reeder has taken have been tough, but he keeps forging ahead.

"I whipped it twice. I'm going to whip it a third time," he said.

Meg H. Partington is a feature writer and editor for the Herald-Mail Company. She can be reached at megp@herald-mail.com.

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