Thirteen years ago, this week, I heard those infamous words: “Mr. Singer, Sir You Have Breast Cancer!”
It was not that shocking to hear, since I had already assumed the worst from the Mammogram, Ultra-Sound and subsequent biopsy.
But here I am, still standing, still fighting and still advocating for all the other men with a similar diagnosis.
It’s a little bit ironic that my diagnosis came in the month of October, a month that has become synonymous with breast cancer. Over the past few years we have been able to get recognition for all the men who are stricken, by having the third week of October recognized in 27 states as Male Breast Cancer Awareness Week.
We have worked extremely hard to understand all the fallacies, misconceptions, disdain, embarrassment and shame being DX, as a man with breast cancer has brought us, and how best to overcome them.
These small accomplishments haven’t been easy. Thirteen years ago, male breast cancer was as swept under the rug as female breast cancer was in the 1940’s and 1950’s. Very “hush-hush”! No guy wanted to talk about his own diagnosis, let alone attempt to bring it to the forefront of mass conversation. In the 40’s and 50’s, woman had their surgeries, padded their empty bra’s and went on with their lives as best as possible. Only their immediate families knew of their health struggles.
Post my mastectomy surgery, followed up with three and half months of Chemotherapy and 10 years of hormone therapy, I am still fighting and advocating, insuring male breast cancer and BRCA mutations are included in the conversations.
Let’s talk about BRCA Mutations and the two biggest misconceptions that proliferate the narrative:
1. Every Person walking this earth has BRCA genes! It’s very troubling when I hear people, including medical professionals, say. “SHE HAS THE GENE”. Well, we ALL have the GENE. The BRCA 1&2 gene actually “PROTECTS” you from getting cancer. It’s when this Gene MUTATES, that it leaves you susceptible to cancer.
2. 50% of all the BRCA Mutation Carriers in the World… ARE IN FACT MEN!!! Because the “BR” stands for Breast and the “CA” stands for Cancer, the world has been conned into thinking this mutation only affects women. Bad nomenclature doesn’t change the facts. Men are BRCA Carriers and Men can pass the BRCA Mutation to their children. Half the women in the world who “HAVE THE GENE” (mutation) got it from their Dad!
The BRCA mutation in men may cause Male Breast Cancer, Prostate Cancer, Melanoma and Pancreatic Cancer. It’s true that a majority of men will contract prostate cancer if they live long enough. But, BRCA Mutation driven prostate cancer is usually much more aggressive and has an earlier onset.
In 2008 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. 18 months later, I was diagnosed with early onset Prostate Cancer. I had a full prostatectomy and follow up salvage radiation therapy. Because I knew that my cancers were caused by a mutated BRCA2 gene, I chose much more aggressive treatments. If you know the root causes, you can make intelligent decisions.
If you or your spouse carries a BRCA Mutation, the odds are 50/50 that you would pass this mutation on to your children. It’s extremely important to know if you carry so you know how to screen for potential cancers. And like me, just because you had one cancer diagnosed, doesn’t mean you can’t get another.
I continue to actively surveil my body for recurring Breast Cancer or Prostate Cancer cells. I continue to see my dermatologist twice a year. I do active screening for my pancreas. Some people may view this as too much and too many doctor visits. I look at it as being forward thinking / Preemptive. We all know that the best way to beat any cancer is to catch it earlier. I know my risks, so I attempt to counter those risks by being vigilant.
As we are bombarded by the “PINK WASHING” of Breast Cancer Awareness this October, I urge all to understand that Men Get Breast Cancer and Men Carry BRCA Mutations, which can cause Breast, Prostate, Pancreatic, Ovarian and Melanoma Cancers.
Men need to be VIGILANT! If there’s any history of any of these cancers in your family, consider genetic testing. Genetic testing is readily available for all. Research a certified genetic counselor in your area and reach out to them. They will assist you through the process. It’s not that expensive and frankly, it could save Your Life or Your Children’s Lives.
What would you do or pay to save your kid’s life?
Harvey I Singer