In October, we tend to see a sea of pink on everything from pro football players’ uniforms, to ads for products touting support for breast cancer awareness. Although breast cancer is the second most common cancer in women, it affects men also.
According to the American Cancer Society, about one in eight women will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in their lifetime. For men, the lifetime risk of getting breast cancer is one in 833.
Male Survivor Story
“I never thought about the possibility of getting breast cancer,” said Rodney Bond, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2018. “You hear about all the other types of cancer, but you never hear about men having breast cancer.”
“We have to do something to increase male breast cancer awareness,” said Bianca Rodriguez, Brooke Army Medical Center breast nurse navigator. “Everything is so targeted toward women; we forget men get breast cancer too.”
Bond started to feel a small lump in this chest. “I thought maybe I hurt myself lifting weights,” he said.
At first, he was told it could be caused by consuming too much caffeine, but the lump didn’t go away. In fact, it got bigger, about the size of a golf ball. At that point, his primary doctor referred him to emergency oncology at BAMC. They immediately performed a biopsy and a short time later gave him the news he had breast cancer.
“When Rodney was diagnosed with breast cancer, he thought it was a death sentence because he never heard of men getting breast cancer,” Rodriguez said.
“My first question was, ‘Am I going to die on Friday? Or am I going to die on Monday?’” Bond said. “I was a healthy guy -- running and exercising, it just came out of nowhere. I never would have imagined getting breast cancer.”
“I usually tell my patients, ‘We’re going to talk about your get-well plan.’” Rodriguez said. “That way it doesn’t sound so scary. For him, just hearing those words changed his whole outlook on treatment.”
After surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, Bond is doing well. He will continue to have yearly follow-up appointments.
“I made it through it,” he said triumphantly.
Young and Fit
Another misnomer is that younger women do not get breast cancer. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 11 percent of all new cases of breast cancer in the United States are found in women younger than 45 years of age.
At age 38, Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Chanda Conger recently found out she has breast cancer. The wife and mother of two daughters has a history of breast cancer in her family.
“My sister had breast cancer in her early twenties, so I’ve been getting screened once a year for several years now,” she said.
Prior to being stationed at Joint Base San Antonio, Conger underwent surgery to remove a benign lump in her breast.
Conger began seeing Army Lt. Col. (Dr.) Guy Clifton at BAMC for her follow-on care. Because of her family history and previous lumpectomy, Clifton recommended she have an MRI every six months. The MRI showed a mass and after a biopsy she was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma. IDC, sometimes called infiltrating ductal carcinoma, is the most common type of breast cancer.
After a double mastectomy, Conger is currently receiving chemotherapy.
“I have never experienced more personal, kind, care from a doctor, ever,” she said. “Even before I had cancer. The care I have received has always been individualized and specialized to me.”
Since being diagnosed with breast cancer, Conger said she has learned a few things.
“Cancer doesn’t discriminate based on age or how healthy you are,” she said. “I’m a Defender. I’m tough. I take care of myself mentally and physically. But, cancer didn’t discriminate, it picked me too.”
“Even if you’re not 40, it’s still important to be vigilant about your breast health,” Rodriguez said. “Know your history, so you know your risks and then talk about it with a healthcare provider.”
There are resources available to help those who have a cancer diagnosis, such as BAMC’s Life After Cancer Education group, also known as LACE.
“I am grateful for a strong support system including LACE. I think it’s a good lesson to show our children and troops that it’s ok to ask for help and support others,” Conger said. “It’s good to have somewhere to turn when you need help or feel alone; you don’t have to feel ashamed to reach out.”
“It is also important to find solace,” she added. “I rely on my faith and trust my God to help pull me through on the bad days so I can rejoice in the good days. And remember the good days aren’t just ours; the good days are our loved ones good days and they are meant to be shared.”