When Men Get Breast Cancer

By Elisha R ‘Bear’ Baker, IV

I am a breast cancer survivor, an advocate in the battle to end this disease and a man.  I was diagnosed six and half years ago and seven months after showing my primary care physician a lump under my left nipple I found while taking a shower.  Like so many other men, I was told not to worry about it—not once—but three times in the next six months.  When my wife had an abnormal mammogram, I took the opportunity to ask the radiologist to recommend a surgeon who could provide a second opinion on my own lump.  I was only the fifth male he had seen in 37 years of practice whose lump turned out to be invasive ductal carcinoma.  I found a new primary care physician.  

After a mastectomy and while doing chemo, I became involved in several breast cancer organizations including NBCC, although they insisted I finish treatment prior to attending ProjectLEAD®.  I became involved for a number of reasons.  First, I was mad that I had cancer.  Second, I have spent a lifetime doing research.  At the time of my diagnosis, I was director of a research center at the University of Alaska Anchorage.  The day after my mastectomy, I started searching through the journals to better understand what I was up against and was dumbfounded to find very little published on male breast cancer.  Of course, considering the number of men diagnosed each year (about 2,000 in the U.S.) the lack of information is not surprising. 

Nonetheless, I was driven to read what was available, to talk with the folks who were actively researching the issue and to do what I could to support the right research.  As a result of completing NBCC’s ProjectLEAD, I have served as an advocate reviewer for the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program (CDMRP) Breast Cancer Research and, since its inception, for the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.  I have been the advocate member of numerous committees and continue to look for opportunities to give back to the community. 

The third reason I became involved was a reaction to the lack of acknowledgment in the literature, the media, the community, among my friends and colleagues, etc., that men too were diagnosed with and died from breast cancer.  The view that breast cancer is a female disease inhibits men from discussing their diagnosis.  It is overwhelmingly a disease of females and it’s not my intention to diminish the focus on the detection and treatment for women. I just think that if more women realized the men in their lives could also be diagnosed with the disease, they would persuade men to follow-up on potential issues. 

I sent a note to everyone I worked with shortly after my diagnosis, over two-hundred folks, and heard from only one individual.  Fortunately with a first name often mistaken for a female, I was invited to many survivor organizations and activities.  Only two turned me away because I was male and one of those organizations changed its by-laws to recognize male survivors within three months of my petition.  I continue to put my face on breast cancer at every opportunity, in print media, websites, PSAs, news stories, speaking engagements. I never say no to an opportunity to increase awareness of the male impact of the disease.

Bear Baker

Bear Baker, with his mastiff, Bernadette. "She sat by my side without complaint through seven months of treatement. She did not understand why I did not play with her as I had before surgery, but she understood that I needed her even more than I had before."

So, considering the average age of onset for male breast cancer is close to 67, I encourage you to celebrate Father’s Day by making sure the men in your family are aware that breast cancer does not discriminate based on sex.  Make sure they take any breast abnormality seriously.

All of us who go through this disease have someone special to thank for being there for us.  My wife was there from beginning to end and took control of my life until she was certain I was going to survive and for that I will be forever grateful.  She now is a three year survivor herself.

This entry was posted in Breast Cancer Deadline 2020, DOD BCRP, National Breast Cancer Coalition, Project LEAD and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to When Men Get Breast Cancer

  1. Good for you, Bear. You are doing a world of good.

  2. MaryAnn Whitbeck says:

    I am so glad to know that there is other warrior prices/princess advocating on behave of men to make awareness of this disease in men a major issue.

  3. Robert says:

    One of my first “clients” as a lymphedema patient advocate was a man I met at a bar mitzvah in Denver. I offered him a ride from the hotel at which we were staying, and discovered over breakfast that he was a breast cancer survivor with a painful debilitating swollen arm which none of his providers (or his companion, a Registered Nurse) recognized as lymphedema. He was reticent to discuss his breast cancer, and had no idea of what to do about his arm. I downloaded lymphedema information from my computer, printed it out at the hotel business office, and eventually got him in contact with a qualified lymphedema therapist on Long Island, NY, close to his home. He called me every holiday for many years to status his lymphedema management and thank me for getting him help.

  4. UnRyung Lee says:

    One of my male co-worker, a vetran of the Vietnam War, had surgery for Breast Cancer. Boy, was I surprised! We all need to be educated and re-educated.

  5. Malinda Sharkey says:

    My father-in-law also had breast cancer years ago, back in the early 60′s. He was caught early enough that he lived until he died of a heart attack in 1968. My mother-in-law lost her battle with the disease 4 years ago, and my sister is fighting her battle right now. Our family is well aware that breast cancer does not strike women only and take it very seriously. Thank you for what you are doing to help spread the word.

  6. alan F herbert says:

    I found a lump back in february and although a nurse and having worked on a breast surgery ward I didnt think of cancer myself. but i knew it wasnt right so went to my g.p. she didnt think it was cancer but luckily went throught the motions anyway. like you i found the information available for men is abysmal. i dont need to know about bra’s and prothesis . even the statistics are vague quoting figures between 0.2 and 0.8 %. the average about 85 male cases in the netherlands per annum. This disease affecting men as well as women needs bringing out into the open. i am certain the amount of male cases found too late i.e. stage 4 will far exceed the female numbers should someone do a study. men dont look for it. and when a lump is found tend ignore it. some out of embarrasment most out of ignorance very few playing ostrich. i have read that many G.P. s ignore the possibility of male breast cancer too. this needs massive education to both the masses and medical staff. A start would be male victims taking part in the “women only”breast cancer race for life events. it is surely our right as survivors of which I hope to be one. I was stage three and am currently under treatment. i wish you all the success and continued good health..

  7. adi kharisma says:

    hi, bear
    My name is Adi kharisma live in Denpasar and Jakarta Indonesia and for the past 17 years fight for cancer that had taken lives many of my close relatives,
    I also interested with your breast cancer, how can we communicate as I specialize in terminal cancer stage? where do u live? I coach people with cancer through eating foods that fight cancer, so u can try with this diet,
    thank you,

    adi kharisma

  8. Catherine says:

    A good reminder that breast cancer does not discriminate. I was diagnosed at the very young age of 27, which put me in a situation similar to yours – no one expects it to actually happen. Do keep sharing your story and raising awareness.