Chicago you were awesome!
Thank you so much to the 1,000 men women and children that supported the inaugural Great Pink Run Chicago raising in excess of $110,000 to support the collaborative research efforts at the University of Chicago Ludwig Breast Center exploring metastatic disease.
Patient Supporters- Their Stories
- Diagnosis: Stage zero cancer, in situe estrogen-based
In 2013 I noticed my left breast was swollen. It was much larger than the right side and was uncomfortable. I went to my doctor and he referred me to a surgeon who specializes in breast cancer. I went to my appointment and the doctor came in to see me. In a matter of fact tone he asked me, “why did your doctor send you to me?”. I explained to the doctor about my swollen breast tissue. He examined me and stated, “it’s breast tissue. Men have breast tissue.”
I was taken aback by his seemingly dismissive tone. I again stated my concern and said that my left breast did not look right and something was wrong. He ordered tests for me but he seemed reluctant. I went in and I had a mammogram and a biopsy. The test results came back negative.
A year passed. It was again in the fall and I felt a lump. I went back to my doctor. He was very concerned. Now after my first experience I was assigned a new surgeon. It was back to the clinic for testing. A breast cancer clinic is not a place designed for men. It was a beautiful office. Everything bright. Lots of pink. Ribbons everywhere. Publications on breast cancer health and self-examination. Not a car and driver magazine in sight.
I was given a pink gown. I answered the requisite health questions. Do you have any back pain, coughing, headaches? Then it was, are you or could you be pregnant? When was your last menstrual cycle? None of this bothered me. I was there to figure out what was wrong with me. It sounds crazy but I felt kind of special. Here I was a man. I was getting a procedure only women get.
The office was very professional. I was cared for wonderfully. I had another mammogram and a biopsy. As a tall person who doesn’t work out, you might think it’s hard to get a mammogram with not much breast tissue to work with. Trust me when I say men can definitely have a successful mammogram.
I waited for the results. I worked for the Sheriff’s department in corrections. I came home from work and my wife sat me down to tell me the news. She told me I was positive for breast cancer. My wife was going to cry but I didn’t. I told her it would be okay.
This was an important part for me. I was so sure I had caught it early. My attitude was positive. It got me through. I was scheduled for surgery. I called my Sargent and told him I would be out for 2 week and I was having surgery. I told him it was for breast cancer. I told him to tell everyone what I had and that I would be back.
I had my surgery. It was a full mastectomy of my left breast. When I awoke, I had bandages of course and a drain tube and bulb. This was for me the worst part of the experience. I experienced no pain. A testament to the excellence of my surgeon. The final result was a stage zero cancer in situe estrogen-based. My lymph nodes were clean. It was encapsulated. I was right. I caught it early. After surgery was over, I didn’t want the ribbons. I didn’t want the cancer sucks T-shirt. It was a surgery and I was done. I hadn’t battled cancer like others with wrenching treatments and chemo, so I didn’t want to wear the banner of cancer. When I got back to work everyone was wonderful. One of my friends upon seeing me said, “how are you doing? I heard you lost a moob”. I almost died laughing and from that point on I knew I would have to find humor in this in order to help me survive it.
A vast majority of men are embarrassed with a diagnosis of breast cancer. They feel a lump and say it’s nothing. A lot of guys don’t like going to the doctor. Because of this, men are diagnosed much later. By this time in most cases it has metastasized. This is why men’s survival rate is poor. It is hard to believe but I have heard men’s stories about how their doctor told them, “it’s just a calcification it will go away “. One man told his story about his doctor who laughed at him when he told him he was a breast cancer survivor.
Two years passed and I discovered another lump in the same spot on my left breast. It was back to the doctor. Another biopsy and it was positive again. I had another surgery and it was removed. My lymph nodes were clean. I had 30 radiation treatments and I take tamoxifen.
When my breast cancer returned, I went on Facebook and told my friends it came back. I told them I would be okay and I would be back. I said when I return if you want to ask me about my cancer please do. I will try not to bore you with it. If you are uncomfortable about asking that’s okay too. I’m still the same guy you’ve always known. I felt I had a duty to make others comfortable with my diagnosis.
I realized a few things this time around. It was again the month of October. Breast cancer awareness month. No one was talking about men. Every morning I was getting my Diet Coke at the gas station. I was donating a dollar for breast cancer awareness. Instead of my name I wrote on the paper ribbon, “Breast Cancer! Men get it too”. I signed my full name. The clerk kept it front and center at the register so everyone would see it upon my request. The other thing I learned was that I am a man with breast cancer. This is a thing. The crazy thing about it is I never once cried about my diagnosis. I was truly never afraid. This doesn’t make me better than anyone else it just makes me different in how I have dealt with my condition.
I finally found my voice with the Male Breast Cancer Coalition. Founded by Bret Miller. His mother Peggy Miller and a friend, Cherie Ambrose. They advocate and bring awareness and educate about male breast cancer. At a coalition gathering this past April I met 16 men with breast cancer. I have never met a guy with breast cancer. It was truly life changing. I joined a fraternity of guys battling the same disease and there aren’t many of us. I would joke about starting a men’s breast cancer survivor group and it would be me and another guy.
The statistics for men are sobering. About 2,740 men will be diagnosed with male breast cancer this year. 5% of men develop metastatic breast cancer. The 5-year survival rate is 20%.
So, my breast cancer journey continues. I am 3 ½ years in remission. I wear my cancer T-shirts and I tell people about male breast cancer. I have been written up in Mens Health online and I am still working to let others know that men can get breast cancer. It’s not just a woman’s disease.
Run for them!
With 1 in 8 women developing the disease in their lifetime, everybody knows someone that has been affected, whether a family relative, friend, or member within the community – making it all the more important to continue investing in research to help transform breast cancer from often being a fatal disease to a long term treatable illness.
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