Actor spreads awareness of breast cancer among men
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) — As an actor who got his start here in Winston-Salem, K.T. “Todd” Nelson has never been afraid of the limelight, and being center stage was nothing new for him.
But when it came to his breast-cancer diagnosis earlier this year, Nelson shut down and shied away. In fact, he didn’t tell anyone about his diagnosis until a few weeks into treatment.
“When (doctors) told me, I still don’t know if I processed it immediately,” said Nelson, 34. “I had stage 2 breast cancer and I started treatment the following week.”
His silence was not for nothing. As a staunch believer in strong mental health, Nelson took the alone time to mentally prepare himself.
“Imagine having to tell the story 40 to 50 times, and you’re reliving it every time,” Nelson explained. “It’s a lot emotionally, and it can become debilitating so I tried to be mindful of myself and what I needed.”
Once he realized his behavior was starting to change, though, he reached out to his closest family and friends not only to make them aware of his diagnosis, but for help. Nelson participated in a “cocktail treatment” of sorts, which included a few rounds of chemotherapy, radiation and meditation all over the course of four and a half weeks.
According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation Inc., fewer than 1 percent of all breast cancer develops in males — and unfortunately, Nelson would become part of this small percentage.
“I originally went to the doctor for sinus and allergy issues but he started asking questions about my overall health,” Nelson said. “I told him about a bump on my left breast and he decided to get it checked out just to be safe. Breast cancer was the farthest thing on my mind.”
During his treatment, he lost nearly 30 pounds and was unable to work. Sleep was something he was afraid to do. But today, Nelson is currently showing no evidence of disease (NED, as it’s commonly referred to in the medical community) and he recently hit his 90-day cancer-free mark.
His fight isn’t over yet, though. He’s gotten heavily involved in various breast-cancer organizations and has taken to social media to be an outspoken advocate for preventative measures.
On these platforms, Nelson often urges men and women to complete breast self-exams — especially since he’s living proof that men can also get breast cancer.
“I have become a unicorn of sorts to be honest because there are not a lot of men with breast cancer,” he said. “It was embarrassing at first — because there’s so much stigma associated with it.”
He’s also heavily involved with Beats to Beat Breast Cancer, an organization that uses the power of music to drive awareness and raise funds for research and prevention.
On Oct. 14, Beats to Beat held an awareness brunch and awards ceremony to honor Vanessa Bell Calloway, a well-known actress who has attended and served as co-chair of the National Black Theatre Festival.
Nelson has also participated in the festival, starting there as a teen.
All of his volunteering is simply just part of his individual healing process.
“For me personally, I didn’t want to talk about anything at first because I’m still in the midst of everything,” Nelson said. “This is part of my healing process and I’m starting to tackle it.”
Regardless of age, race and gender, Nelson urges everyone to take as many preventative measures as possible, which includes regular doctor visits and genetic testing, if possible.
“Ignorance is not bliss, and there’s knowledge in power,” Nelson said. “It’s amazing how something seems like the end of the world but it’s actually my story, and it’s why I’m here.
“I’m grateful for my cancer because it gave me a better trajectory on life, and I value life in a different way now.”