In January 2021, after making a big career change and moving to a new state, I found a small lump under my left nipple. I had just gotten home from a workout and was a little sore in the chest area, so I rubbed them and noticed the lump. Since I had yet to establish provider care in my new city, I was relying on my old PCP to help guide me through the process remotely. After obtaining a referral to get an ultrasound and mammogram, I went to a local radiology group that regularly performs these tests. Immediately after I underwent the US/mammo, the radiologist came in the room and said “the mass is probably a cyst, if it grows, come back in 6-9 months. Breast cancer in males is very rare and I wouldn’t worry about it.” They didn’t seem concerned at all regardless of the numerous questions I was asking about it. They sent me home with my unanswered questions and concerns.
I contacted my PCP who shared my concerns and didn’t have answers to my questions either. Therefore, I decided to make an appointment with a breast surgeon/specialist to get a second opinion. They took a look and sent me for a biopsy just to make sure. A few days later, they called me with the news that the biopsy came back positive as an Invasive Ductal Carcinoma (a type of breast cancer). I was shocked, but immediately went to work researching and planning the next steps.
Now, I consider myself fairly lucky given that I am a healthcare provider with access to medical information, studies, guidelines etc. that the general public doesn’t usually have immediate access too. I also spent a lot of time over the course of the two months it took from discovery to diagnosis reading first person experiences with male breast cancer. Therefore, I knew that not only was it rare, and that there is limited information out there, that I had to be certain it wasn’t in fact breast cancer. The consistent theme throughout every guy’s breast cancer journey starts the same; they find a lump, Dr says male breast cancer is rare (or they don’t even get it checked not thinking about breast cancer), wait, and the cancer grows and spreads making it much harder to treat.
After meeting with several breast cancer clinics/specialists, I underwent a successful bilateral (double) mastectomy in May 2021. The surgeon removed both breasts and nipples leaving me with the typical large breast cancer scars. They removed several lymph nodes and tested the different tissues to determine level of treatment. I then went to a medical oncologist who shared with me fantastic news that, because we caught it early enough, I would not have to undergo any forms of radiation or chemo. I could get away with taking the oral tamoxifen for 5-10 years and go from there.
While I’m still recuperating from the major surgery, and getting used to the tamoxifen, I’m preparing for the next steps with plastic surgery to reconstruct and minimize some of the damage caused. Those of you that know me personally also know how much I love tattoos, and am already working with artists to get some art that covers much of the scaring and misshaping. While I won’t attempt any nipple tattoos or reconstruction, I still have a lot of disfigurement that I need to get fixed/covered.
That being said, I do consider myself very lucky to have gotten that second opinion. It didn’t take long for me to discover that most male breast cancer cases are the same; find lump, male breast cancer rare so skip correct diagnostic tests, wait until it’s much larger/spreads, and becomes much harder to treat. Therefore, I knew it was important to be persistent and really rule out the fact that it wasn’t in fact breast cancer.
If it weren’t for stories like Bret’s, I wouldn’t have known the importance of getting that second opinion and avoid waiting at all costs. Hopefully I’m able to share the success I’ve had in checking my pecs, getting a second opinion, and aggressively taking steps for cure instead of the alternative. In my opinion. awareness is key when it comes to male breast cancer.