Dennis Nichols has had many interesting experiences in his life, each with their own challenges. He started as a deckhand on tugboats his father ran along the Columbia River. Then came 10 years as a front-line officer with the Washington State Patrol. This was followed by a stint in the aviation industry that led to employment with Texaco Oil and then as a manager for Mascott Equipment Co., an equipment distributor here in the Tri-Cities. Each presented many challenges.
But Dennis said his biggest challenge was his battle with breast cancer. His mother died of breast cancer and his younger sister, Kerry, was recently diagnosed. But even with this apparent genetic disposition, he was still surprised when Dr. Laurie Evans identified a small lump in his right breast as malignant. This was only the fifth male breast cancer patient Dr. Evans had seen in her 25 years of practice, consistent with statistics from the American Cancer Society showing that men are 100 times less likely to get this form of cancer than women.
Rather than feeling there was a stigma with getting a ‘female’ disease, his thoughts focused entirely on getting it fixed. “Of course I got some good natured teasing from friends, but they all knew that cancer is cancer. You don’t have a choice for what kind of cancer you get and you certainly don’t want to ignore it.” So when Dr. Evans recommended a mastectomy followed by radiation therapy, Dennis said “let’s get going.” Strongly believing in the importance of one-on-one communication, he avoided using social media to keep family and friends updated on his situation. “This made a huge
difference” Dennis said. “I could talk with them individually and explain the situation in more detail than I could if I had used Facebook or some other electronic means of communication.” Family, friends, faith and humor helped get Dennis through the procedures. Members of his church made it clear they could fill in for the responsibilities he would normally carry on. Mascott Equipment Co. let him work hours of his own choosing based on
his energy level on a given day.
He now stops by the Tri-Cities Cancer Center just to say hello and keep up to date with the staff he met during the course of his treatment. “When you spend as much time with these people as I did, they become special friends. It’s not just a doctor-patient relationship.” (As an aside, Dennis mentioned that he’s taken many of them up in his 2-seater 1941 Aeronca Chief, with more waiting in line for a ride in his small aircraft!)
Dennis noted that many men do not deal well with major life changing events such as cancer. He admits to having been a workaholic when he was younger, and can sympathize with men who immerse themselves in their work as a way to put aside the natural fears that come with a diagnosis like his. But Dennis, like many others, found that cancer gave him a fresh and valuable perspective on what matters. His diagnosis has made him more aware than ever of the many good people in the world, and the importance of spending time with them and other family and friends.
Dennis still makes use of the TCCC resources. “When my younger sister Kerry was diagnosed with cancer, I was able to talk to Dr. Choe and other staff about her specific condition, treatment options, how to best support her and other concerns, even though she lives out of town and was not a patient here. I learned that their concern for patients is not limited to patients alone. This concern extends to caregivers, too.”
When asked to describe his overall treatment in the Tri-Cities, Dennis exclaimed “Terrific.”