EMPLOYER, JOB: Edinburgh Premium Outlets, maintenance,
DIAGNOSED: December 2010
TREATMENTS: Mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation
PARENTS: Joe (deceased) and Wilda Jean Boas
SIBLINGS: Brothers, Randy, Greg, Tracy; sisters, Della Dolan, Susan Johnson
Mark Boas thanks a man he never met and the color pink for saving his life from a disease he thought affected only women.
In October 2010, a pink newspaper at his mother’s house caught Boas’ attention. The Oct. 15 edition of The Republic contained a special breast cancer awareness section, and the entire paper was the color that has become synonymous with the cause.
But had it not been for a story about Hope resident Larry Shepherd’s ordeal with breast cancer, Boas might have continued to ignore a lump in his sore left breast that had been bugging him for a month.
“I didn’t dream I’d get it,” said Boas, a 56-year-old Columbus resident. “If he hadn’t been in the paper, if it was just women, I never would have thought about it.”
Instead, Boas became concerned. His older sister contracted breast cancer, and a cousin had died from it.
Within a month, Boas went to a health clinic for a mammogram. An abnormal result prompted the need for a biopsy. A positive result for breast cancer necessitated a mastectomy on Dec. 22, followed by chemotherapy starting in January and radiation starting in August.
The past year has been a whirlwind for Boas, but he says he’s at peace with the fact that he has breast cancer.
“Once I knew the truth, I knew what I’ve got to do,” he said.
Boas first noticed how sore his left breast was in September 2010, when leaned over a toolbox on his truck to get a tool he needed for a construction job. He didn’t think too much of the pain.
When he read Shepherd’s story a month later, he reconsidered what the pain could mean and took action.
A Dec. 7 telephone call from Tammy Creech, a nurse navigator at Columbus Regional Hospital’s Breast Health Center, confirmed what was suspected after the mammogram and biopsy: Boas had early Stage 3 breast cancer — which meant it had not spread throughout his body.
“His reaction was really positive, like it’s just something I’ve got to take care of, so get it done,” Creech said.
Days before Christmas, Dr. David Thompson, a surgeon, removed Boas’ left breast, including a 2.2-centimeter tumor, and 22 lymph nodes — 10 of which tested positive for cancer. A port was inserted in his chest for the chemotherapy drugs.
“Once you have cancer in the lymph nodes it means you need some type of chemotherapy because there’s the likelihood that the cancer has spread beyond the lymph nodes to elsewhere in the body, and the chemotherapy treats the whole body,” Thompson said.
Patients who undergo surgery, chemotherapy and radiation after cancer is found in the lymph nodes have about a 60 percent chance of avoiding a reoccurrence of cancer over five years, Thompson added.
Boas started chemotherapy Jan. 17, receiving a dose of drugs once a week every three weeks, at CRH’s Cancer Center. Each treatment lasted about 90 minutes, and he received the last one in late June.
The first three or four doses weren’t too bad, Boas said, although he had trouble sleeping, lost his appetite because food tasted bland and lost all his body hair.
He lost only 5 pounds because he mixed a protein powder with his milk.
Only after the last two chemotherapy treatments did Boas feel sick.
Radiation treatments took place on a different schedule. Treatment took about 20 minutes a day Monday through Friday, for a total of 28 sessions. Each used photons to kill cancer cells in his left breast area. Those sessions were followed by radiation treatments just for the scar from his mastectomy. It used electrons — which don’t penetrate as deeply as photons — to kill any cancer cells hiding in the scar tissue.
The treatments were easy, he said, except that he needed to remain still throughout.
Donna Christian, Boas’ boss at Edinburgh Premium Outlets, understands what Boas has endured, because she is a breast cancer survivor.
Christian, general manager of the outlet mall, considers Boas an inspiration to his co-workers.
“He continues to work while undergoing surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. He has kept a positive attitude through the whole process,” she said.
Boas said breast cancer served as a wake-up call.
“You make every day count and not take things for granted,” Boas said.
Shepherd lived the same philosophy after developing breast cancer. Unfortunately, he never fully defeated the disease and lost his life to it Sept. 24.
Boas will have to take Tamoxifen, a drug that interferes with the activity of estrogen, for five years, to help stave off a reoccurrence.
That’s fine with him. He’s just doing what needs to be done.
That includes sharing his story with men if he thinks they need to know it.
Just like a man from Hope did.