In January 2007, Michael Kovarik was diagnosed with male breast cancer. He put his full trust in his doctors to manage his care with the expectation of a five-year cancer-free anniversary.
In November 2010, he had a recurrence. Strong therapy, stronger drugs, struggling with powerful side effects, Michael was desperate. He started his search to heal.
Exploring the alternative practices of yoga, Reiki, acupuncture, and energy medicine, Michael stopped his life-altering drug and focused his thoughts on a new path to heal. He immersed himself in the energy of each therapy, learning from various authors and their books.
In 2012, Michael began to write about his passage and in June 2014, his book, Healing Within: My Journey with Breast Cancer was published.
Today Michael enjoys writing and speaking to various audiences raising awareness of male breast cancer and sharing his journey – where his cancer was a catalyst for an inner passage to heal. Michael is honored to be part of the Male Breast Cancer Coalition and an upcoming documentary titled, “Men Have Breasts Too”.
Michael, can you tell us about your two-time cancer journey from diagnosis and how it emotionally impacted your life?
My initial diagnosis of male breast cancer was in January 2007. I couldn’t wrap my head around it, all I kept thinking was that men don’t get breast cancer. At that time with who I was as a person, I gave full authority to my doctors, the drug-Tamoxifen, and fear. At first I was uncomfortable with sharing my diagnosis- embarrassed at having what was known as a “woman’s” disease. I was engulfed in denial and frustrated with the drug’s side effects and daily reminder of the cancer.
Each day as I took the Tamoxifen, my anger and resentment with the disease grew. My avenue for coping was to focus on that five-year mark – the time we are considered to be in remission. For me, the five-year mark was when I believed I would no longer have to acknowledge cancer’s presence.
In 2009, my partner Tim and I moved to an old farm in Washington County, New York. This farm became my sanctuary. By immersing myself in gardening, entertaining, chores, and exploring I could forget about the cancer “me”.
Then in November 2010 I had a recurrence of the cancer. I had much difficulty wrapping my head around the first diagnosis, but now with the second discovery it was magnified even more. How could this happen – I was seeing my doctors, completing the bloodwork, taking the drug – how could this come back?
My new oncologist put me on a more intense therapy- more frequent office visits, radiation, and a more potent drug – Lupron, commonly used by men with prostate cancer. Lupron is a leuprolide depot injection – given once a month for the first three months, then one shot every three months thereafter. The side effects came on the scene immediately and rapidly multiplied. Hot flashes, mood swings, interrupted sleep due to numerous bathroom visits, memory fogs, a deep physical and emotional exhaustion. I was losing more of “me” each day and did not know what to do.
My oncologist would not stop the drug, so as my frustration grew, I began to explore the alternative therapies of yoga and Reiki. I had started both healing practices before my second diagnosis and now delved into them even more. They led me to acupuncture and energy medicine. As I became more involved with each, I found myself embracing the vital link of my inner energy flow and my ability to heal. A common thread within each practice. I became more aware of the energy I sensed from others and what energy I was giving out – its positive or negative effect on how I felt.
I read numerous books on healing discovering an important insight on the responsibility I hold in my ability to heal. Emotionally I was slowly climbing out of the darkness that had engulfed me in my struggle. I began to see that there was another path – a path that worked for me – a healing path of my own.
I stopped the life-draining drug, changed oncologists, had a right side mastectomy as a precaution, and incorporated a more holistic approach to healing the cancer: mind, body, spirit. By reclaiming my power, I reclaimed myself emotionally.
What is your thinking on gene testing? How would that have impacted your life as a male breast cancer survivor?
At first I was uncomfortable, uneasy with my oncologist’s recommendation to be tested, but since my dad had passed away from pancreatic cancer – deep inside I knew it was a good thing to do. In early spring of 2007 I learned that I possessed the BRCA 2 gene. My doctor then encouraged that my mom, brother, and sister be tested. They were and are negative.
Upon receiving the news that I had the BRCA 2 gene, I was overwhelmed. I initially felt it was another heavy layer of the cancer on me. But with time, I realized it was a good thing, a powerful piece of information to have. We should know our BRCA status.
It impacts my life as a male breast cancer survivor in a positive way – knowing that I am more susceptible to other cancers and their aggressive forms, my oncologist saw this as a push to be more proactive. So, in addition to my oncologist, I see a gastroenterologist and have an MRI of my pancreas in the winter and an endoscopic ultrasound in the summer. I also see my urologist, dermatologist, and GP annually for check-ups.
Gene testing is vital because knowledge is power – knowledge is life. I am a strong advocate for men and women to be tested.
As author of “Healing Within: My Journey with Breast Cancer” can you talk about the message of the book and how complementary therapies like acupuncture and yoga have made a big difference in your life?
The message of my book is twofold: to heighten awareness of male breast cancer – to spread the word that Yes, men get breast cancer, but it is also the sharing of my journey to heal and how my cancer was the catalyst for a passage within – where I realized that I had to heal my inner scars in order to heal the cancer.
I had to acknowledge my thoughts, beliefs, and actions, and how they affected my life, relationships, and healing. I had to be with my feelings of not being good enough, of being a victim, and why I gave them power. I had to acknowledge the hurt, anger, and resentment I held on to. I had to accept my responsibility in taking this path and to recognize the responsibility I hold in my healing.
I had delved into yoga and Reiki prior to my second diagnosis. Yoga has been a portal to other therapies. It was in my yoga class that I met Maud, who is a Reiki master. The connection I felt to both practices, the sense of centeredness and inner peace, something I was searching for, allowed me to garner the courage to explore acupuncture and energy medicine.
The common thread binding these peaceful practices is that a blockage or disruption in one’s inner energy flow leads to illness and disease. I know that when I am centered, peaceful, I am able to deal more effectively with stress, anxiety, and negative emotions and energy, yet when I feel that I am not centered, I am easily consumed by stress, anxiety, and negative energy and emotions leading me to feeling run down and unhealthy.
Because of these healing therapies I have become more conscious of how I am; choosing my thoughts, actions/reactions, beliefs, and their connection to how I am feeling at that moment.
After your second diagnosis, you began to read many books on cancer. Can you tell us which books helped you through your treatments and recovery?
My journey with the various books leading to my insight on how my thoughts, beliefs, and actions affect my healing and living all began with Louise Hay’s book, You Can Heal Your Life. This book opened me up to a whole new way of thinking and living.
I have read numerous books by Louise Hay and in addition were: Dan Millman’s The Laws of Spirit: A Tale of Transformation, Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements, Meredith Young-Sowers’ book, Spirit Heals, Caroline Myss Anatomy of the Spirit, Gerald G. Jampolsky Love is Letting Go of Fear, Deepak Chopra The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, Sharon Salzberg and Joseph Goldstien Insight Meditation- A Step by Step on How to Meditate, Michael Meade Fate and Destiny: The Two Agreements of the Soul, Siddhartha Mukherjee The Emperor of All Maladies and Mimi Guarneri, MD The Heart Speaks.
What is so important about “energy” in your life now?
Energy is a vital connection to my health and healing. My introduction to yoga was the first link in understanding how my inner energy flow affected how I felt and healed. This belief was embraced even more as I immersed myself in Reiki, acupuncture, energy medicine, and the Buddhist philosophy.
What transpired was a tuning in to the energy I felt within as well as the energy I gave out and what I received from those I encountered. When we meet someone we immediately sense their energy, is it positive, negative, welcoming, or distant.
I have found in my journey to heal that I am more conscious of the energy I hold and have become attuned to the energy I receive from others. Those whose energy lifts my spirit, heightens my healing are ones I wish to connect with. When I am with someone whose energy drains my spirit, it is draining my health, and I choose with compassion to distant myself from them.
Can you tell us what you now doing about raising awareness of male breast cancer and how others can help?
Since my book, Healing Within, I have enjoyed writing and speaking to various audiences about male breast cancer to heighten awareness of the disease. I also write and speak on my journey to heal where the cancer was a catalyst for an inward journey to heal the scars that I had carried for so long.
My partner, Tim and I are part of an upcoming documentary on male breast cancer called “Men Have Breasts Too” and I am becoming more involved with the Male Breast Cancer Coalition. The Coalition holds a very special place in my heart for they reached out to me and in connecting with them, I, for the first time read about other men going through breast cancer.
Now I am hosting my own radio show, “Healing Journeys with Michael Kovarik” heard live every fourth Sunday of the month at 7pm EST-rebroadcast on Thursday at 2pm and 2am on www.dreamvisions7radio.com. This gives me an opportunity to share and connect with others on a journey of their own, the wonderful healing souls who cross their paths, alternative therapies, and discovering the power to heal that lies within each of us.
The most important thing others can do to help is to talk about male breast cancer with the men in their lives. Where once the conversation was between a mom and daughter, now it needs to include brothers, sons, fathers, husbands, partners, and friends. By speaking up about this disease we help to remove the stigma that this is a “woman’s” disease and to encourage men to open up, share their experiences, and help educate because breast cancer does not discriminate.
To learn more about Michael on his path to healing, visit Dreamvisions Radio where he began a new path on his radio show, Healing Journeys with Michael Kovarik on July 26th, 2015. You can hear Michael live every 4th Sunday at 7:00PM EST with a rebroadcast on Thursday at 2AM and 2PM.