When the doctor told Mike Singer in 2010 that his biopsy had tested positive for breast cancer, he turned to his wife with an expletive and a request for an explanation.
How could a man have breast cancer?
Along with the shock that every cancer patient feels on hearing the words, “You have cancer,” Mike was in disbelief that he could have a “woman’s disease.” Although he knew he had a family history of the disease because his sister Joanne had died of metastatic breast cancer two years earlier, Mike hadn’t worried when he first noticed a lump near his nipple.
He didn’t even mention the lump when he saw the doctor for a check-up. At a follow-up visit, he thought to mention that he had had a lump for several months. As soon as the doctor felt the lump the size of a pencil eraser, he sent Mike for a needle biopsy. That biopsy was unsuccessful, so a surgical biopsy was scheduled. Even when he heard the doctor say that he didn’t like the look of the lump following the biopsy, Mike still didn’t connect the problem with breast cancer.
A mastectomy with sentinel node biopsy successfully removed the cancer, and further testing revealed no metastasis, so Mike didn’t need chemo or radiation. Mike says in his profile on the Male Breast Cancer Coalition website, “I am currently on Tamoxifen which is what they prescribe to women and I have to say it is not a pleasant drug for men and it has several undesirable side effects but I want to increase my life expectancy and this is what the medical field has to offer. I am almost four years cancer free and continue to go for blood work and mammograms of my remaining breast.”
I met Mike at the National Breast Cancer Coalition’s Project LEAD Institute, where he was a funny, outspoken guy, who didn’t seem the least bit embarrassed to be one of two men in the class and the only male breast cancersurvivor. However, that hasn’t always been the case. “For two years I told people I had chest cancer because I was so embarrassed,” he says.
Mike became active in support groups for men with breast cancer like the Male Breast Cancer Coalition. He makes the point that “men are wired differently. We don’t discuss our feelings. Men are embararassed to talk about our breasts.” So the support groups Mike is involved with are action-oriented groups concerned about raising awareness.
Mike, a life-long resident of the Bronx, worked with his state assemblyman to get the third week in October 2015 recognized as Male Breast Cancer Week in New York. He is involved in making a movie about men with breast cancer, and his training at the Project LEAD Institute will make him an even more effective breast cancer advocate.
His advice to men? “The most important thing is to check themselves and consult the doctor if they suspect something. Don’t ignore anything unusual.” Because male breast cancer is rare, Mike recommends consulting with a breast cancer specialist.
According to the American Cancer Society about 2,350 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015, and many of the estimated 440 deaths might be avoided if the disease were discovered in the early stages. That’s why awareness is such an important issue for men. Ignorance or embarrassment should never keep a man from telling his doctor about a lump or other change in his chest. Mike Singer is doing everything he can to make sure that men know they can get breast cancer too.
For more on men with breast cancer:
Male Breast Cancer Coalition. Accessed from http://malebreastcancercoalition.org July 22, 2015.
What Are the Key Statistics for Breast Cancer in Men? American Cancer Society. Feb 26, 2015. Accessed from http://www.cancer.org/cancer/breastcancerinmen/detailedguide/breast-cancer-in-men-key-statistics June 17, 2015.
Male Breast Cancer Treatment. National Cancer Institute. November 2014. Accessed from http://www.cancer.gov/types/breast/patient/male-breast-treatment-pdq June 17, 2015.
Phyllis Johnson is an inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) survivor diagnosed in 1998. She has written about cancer for HealthCentral since 2007. She serves on the Board of Directors for the Inflammatory Breast Cancer Research Foundation, the oldest 501(3)© organization focused on research for IBC. She is a list monitor for an online support group at www.ibcsupport.org. Phyllis attends conferences such as the National Breast Cancer Coalition’s Project LEAD® Institute. She tweets at @mrsphjohnson.