Male breast cancer represents approximately 1% of all cases of breast cancer. Until my diagnosis, I did not know men could get breast cancer. So, that is why when I noticed a painless lump under my left nipple while taking a shower, I did not think anything of it.
After a few months, the lump did not disappear. I noticed that my nipple appeared inverted, and my daughter told me it was a sign of breast cancer. I had a scheduled checkup with my urologist and decided to ask him about it then. After the exam, I underwent a biopsy. It showed metastatic adenocarcinoma of the breast, a type of breast cancer.
From that moment on, I adopted the attitude of “game on.” My mother is a breast cancer survivor, so my first thought was that it was hereditary. I underwent genetic testing but found out I was not a carrier for the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutations, which increase a person’s risk for breast and ovarian cancers.
The hospital in Louisiana where I had my biopsy recommended a local oncologist. But my wife, Dawn, wanted me to be treated at MD Anderson. We knew they had the most knowledge of male breast cancer, which is extremely rare.
My male breast cancer treatment
During my first appointment at MD Anderson, my wife and I told each other we would continue to enjoy life and have fun. After medical oncologist Banu Arun, M.D., evaluated me, she worked with my care team to set up my breast cancer treatment plan. My care team said I could receive chemotherapy in my hometown so I could be with my family. Our children were active in school and sports activities, so I wanted to be home as much as I could.
In April 2019, I underwent eight rounds of chemotherapy. That summer, I returned to MD Anderson to undergo a mastectomy under the care of surgeon Rosa Hwang, M.D. Then, I went home to wait for the results. The tumor had shrunk but was still 70% active. During surgery, more than 30 lymph nodes were removed, but two with cancer positive.
After healing from surgery, I had six weeks of daily radiation therapy treatments. My radiation oncologist Simona Shaitelman, M.D., and her team were fantastic. I stayed in Houston during the week and would drive home to be with Dawn and the kids on the weekends. This gave me something to look forward to during treatment.
I completed radiation treatment and rang the bell on Oct. 15, 2019. I went back to Louisiana to receive a final 14 rounds of chemotherapy. By July 2020, I had completed all my treatments and was declared cancer-free.
Coping with male breast cancer and its side effects
During chemotherapy, I experienced nausea, fatigue, neuropathy and hair loss. We made the hair loss fun by letting our kids give me a haircut before shaving it off. My care team prescribed Zofran to help me cope with the nausea. Friends and family shared home remedies, such as ginger candy and anti-nausea wristbands, which also helped.
Healing from surgery was the hardest part of my treatment. I developed seroma, a lymphatic fluid that builds up at the surgery site. Several drains had to be put in and because of an infection, I was admitted to the hospital. This was frustrating because it set me back from starting radiation. I knew I had to stay focused and keep moving forward.
During radiation therapy, I did not notice side effects until the fifth week when some burning and tenderness set in. By this time, I was determined to push through. Anytime we called or sent a message through MyChart, my care team always responded with ways to ease my side effects. Getting personalized care at MD Anderson made the experience easier.
After treatment, I decided not to have breast reconstruction surgery. I consider my scars from my mastectomy to be battle wounds from my cancer journey. It has become my way of injecting a little humor into what was a difficult and painful process.
Advice for other male breast cancer patients
Here’s my advice for other men facing breast cancer. Take notes at every appointment. Dawn brought a notebook to all my appointments. There is so much information and having a diary to look back on really helps.
Do not be afraid to accept help from others. This is not a solo ride. Receive the support they give you. We had to adjust to the generous amount of giving and help we received. But once we did, we realized this was allowing others the joy of giving. Dawn and I are thankful we can pay it forward.
Lean on support from family and friends. Along with my faith, my wife, friends and family kept me going.
Keep a positive attitude. Face each day as a personal challenge, and you will gain mental toughness. Think of each day as a race and keep going until you reach the finish line.
Life after male breast cancer
For the last four years, I’ve been taking a magic little pill called tamoxifen every day. Even though it causes side effects such as hot and cold flashes, fatigue and body aches, it is a small price to pay to reduce the risk of a recurrence. I return to MD Anderson for follow-ups every year and see my oncologist in Baton Rouge every six months for mammograms and lab work.
My wife and I made a point to laugh and do something fun every day. Leaning into love and laughter helps you push through hard days. My motto was to live in spite of cancer because it does not have to define you.