Through the Eyes of a Husband, Father & AVON 39er

By: All for the Breast Editorial Team, December 1, 2015

Every three minutes there is a new diagnosis of invasive breast cancer in the U.S., and sadly, breast cancer will affect one in eight women her lifetime.

Mike North, 75, is an 11-time AVON 39 participant. Since 2010, North has walked a total of 432 miles and raised nearly $31,000 to benefit the Avon Foundation for Women’s Breast Cancer Crusade. He has stood beside his wife Linda while she fought two bouts with breast cancer and two with melanoma.  He was also there for his daughter, Christine, when she was first diagnosed with breast cancer at age 39.

There have been many songs written about the relationship between a father and a daughter. The songs illustrate the vivid moments in life that a father will always remember, such as his daughter attending the first day of school, learning to ride a bike, going out on her first date, getting ready for senior prom, or even walking her down the aisle.

But I’ve never heard a song that portrays the true angst and powerlessness a father experiences when he receives a phone call from his daughter saying, “Dad, I have breast cancer.”

disneylandWhen I received the call that day from my daughter, Christine, in 2008, it was simply deja-vu. You see, 10 years before, back in 1998, I was in my office getting ready to get on a conference call when my wife, Linda, called me and said, “Honey, I have breast cancer.” Not wanting to interrupt when she was telling me about this difficult, life-changing news, I sat there quietly feeling helpless. Shortly after hanging up, I got up to share the news with my managers.

At the time, I was an aerospace engineer and my managers were former Air Force officers. Although they were hard drivers, they adhered to the top two rules of military leadership: one, achieve your journey; and two, take care of your people. When I shared the news with them, they told me to go home. I obliged and brought flowers home for my wife.

Fast-forwarding to the moment I received my daughter’s diagnosis, I knew I had been down this road before. I was a husband, father and grandfather; had accomplished a great deal in my career; and was truly achieving “my journey.” My wife was a two-time breast cancer survivor, and although we nearly lost her once, we were stronger together for having gone through it.
But nothing can prepare you for the moment you’ve always feared. The life I had planned did not just hit a speed bump; it was a derailment. As an engineer by trade, I had many questions, but I looked at breast cancer from an analytical standpoint and knew that she would survive. As a father, I worried for my family, our lives together and what would come next.

Linda took the news about Christine much worse than I did, mainly because she felt guilty that she may have passed her breast cancer diagnosis down to our daughter and future generations.

My wife and I supported our daughter Christine any way that we could. We flew to Texas several times to help her with doctors’ appointments, scans and household duties. We also helped take care of our grandchildren by taking them to school and driving them to swimming lessons.

Her treatment initially consisted of two rounds of chemotherapy, Adriamycin and Cytoxan, followed by a bilateral mastectomy, hysterectomy, and further chemotherapy treatment called Cisplatin. It has now been more than seven years since Christine was diagnosed, and nearly nine years since my wife Linda had a reoccurrence. Thankfully, they are both now cancer-free.

As a father and husband impacted by breast cancer, I once felt hopeless and didn’t know how to help or get involved in the fight. Since then, so much has transpired, and I’ve learned a few things throughout my journey.

mikenorthI’ve learned that even when you’re not prepared, you must always “take care of your people;” I’ve learned that most of my immediate fears and concerns have been resolved, either by action or acceptance; I’ve learned not only how to cope with breast cancer, but how to create positive outcomes for my family and make a difference for future generations; I’ve learned that as a co-survivor, I have the strength, experience, spirit and determination to help others in similar situations; and lastly, I’ve learned that flowers would never put an end to this disease, but joining AVON 39 The Walk To End Breast Cancer was a nice head-start.

Since I first started participating in AVON 39 back in 2010, I’ve raised nearly $31,000 to accelerate breast cancer research; improve access to screening, diagnosis and treatment; and educate people about breast cancer. I’ve walked 432 miles and I’ve met some incredible people along the way, including fathers like me who share a personal connection to breast cancer. The events have motivated me to get in shape, to stay healthy, and to train… even after triple bypass surgery!

Earlier this year, I participated in the AVON 39 Boston event, walking 39.3 miles throughout the picturesque New England city. The event was a special one – as it was the 11th AVON 39 event I’ve participated in and the last of my AVON 39 nationwide tour. I’ve now walked in every AVON 39 city.

Right now, my family is in a good place, and if I knew how to write a song, I would. I am grateful that this holiday season, my wife and daughter are with me. But one in eight is too many, and one every three minutes is too often. So I will continue participating in AVON 39 The Walk To End Breast Cancer until I can’t any longer.

— Mike North, AVON 39er and Retired Aerospace Engineer