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.
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.