My first hint that something was wrong was when in late 2019 I noticed a strange feeling in my left nipple. It seemed sensitive to touch but really didn’t hurt much. It was so subtle I didn’t pay much attention to it.
A month or so later my long-time physical therapist noticed that my left nipple seemed inverted, and she strongly suggested I have my primary care physician look at it. He thought it might be an infection as he noted that breast cancer in men was very rare. He gave me a prescription for an antibiotic and also scheduled a mammogram.
A week later I was having a regularly scheduled appointment with my dermatologist (I have lots of skin cancer issues left over from a life of sailing and cycling). She noticed the strange look of my nipple and started to gently probe the area. She suggested she do a punch biopsy of the lump under my nipple.
A week later the result came back as breast cancer.
The mammogram several weeks later showed my lymph nodes were also involved. Following my eventual mastectomy in March, pathology found three lymph nodes matted together plus an additional one with cancer cells. The 3.7-centimeter primary tumor was ER+ and PR+, HER-. The cancer was Stage 3A.
My family has a history of breast cancer; my mother had a radical mastectomy at age 50 in 1971 and my wife was found to have breast cancer in both breasts in 2013. So, we had a pretty good idea what we were dealing with.
I was tested for mutated genes, but none were discovered. That made my two sons, three brothers and eight nieces somewhat more comfortable.
My health provider, Kaiser Permanente, held an all-day cancer panel with me where I was introduced to my medical team (doctors, nurses, and social workers.) It was helpful to get a full picture of my road ahead.
I opted to use the same oncologist my wife had used as we had developed a warm relationship with him during her treatments (she was stage 1, so she had a bilateral mastectomy and then started on a hormone treatment, no chemo or radiation.)
My stage 3 cancer required a mastectomy, DoseDense + Taxol chemo and then six weeks of radiation. 2020 was pretty much a full year of treatments but given the lockdown due to COVID we did not feel we had missed much.
Now three years later I feel good and I make sure to tell all my male friends to check for any anomaly in their breasts as I am walking proof that men can get breast cancer. I am taking Tamoxifen as further treatment against a recurrence.
I never experienced much anxiety over having breast cancer. I just charged into treatment. Breast cancer was much easier on me than it was on my wife of now 56 years. But we faced it both times together and were each other’s most important supporters.
I did buy a pink shirt and have found women survivors of breast cancer very welcoming to me a guy member of their sisterhood.