It’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month and like most people, I shared pictures of women wearing pretty pink t-shirts with stats like, “It is estimated that 1 in 8 women will get breast cancer in her lifetime.” Well, lucky for me, I got called out on my bias. Bill Brumley, who lives near New Orleans, LA, commented on my Facebook post, “Just remember men can get breast cancer too… I know, ‘cause as a man, I’m a breast cancer survivor.”
While male breast cancer is rare, it DOES happen and in 2018, the American Cancer Society estimates that approximately 2,550 men will be diagnosed with this disease. Additionally, breast cancer in men has been on the rise over the last four decades. After Bill’s kind reminder on social media, I had to contact him to hear his brave story. I’m sure you’ll have a new perspective on male breast cancer, too.
In 1974 Bill joined the Air Force and in 1977 he volunteered to help clean up debris in Enewetak Atoll. Enewetak Atoll is a set of islands located in the Pacific Ocean where the United States performed a series of nuclear testing involving more than 30 tons of explosives during the Cold War. In 1977, the U.S. started to perform a three-year, $100 million cleanup project in which the military was assigned to mix the contaminated soil with cement and bury it in one of the craters created by an atomic testing explosion. Unfortunately, this exposure to radiation has caused many of these veterans to experience health complications and cancer is one of the primary diseases reported. Bill believes his breast cancer diagnosis could very well be linked to his time serving on this dangerous island.
In 2013, Bill noticed a knot under his left nipple and so he went to his doctor to find out what it was. A mammogram showed that it was nothing, but after a while, the mass began to grow and tear at the skin. Bill’s primary care physician referred him to a specialist that deals with breast issues, and Bill was diagnosed with breast cancer. After having his left breast removed and enduring eight rounds of chemotherapy, Bill was able to beat cancer.
Bill’s Words of Advice
Here are some invaluable words of advice that Bill has to men and to those who have been diagnosed with breast cancer:
- While this disease is rare in men, it does happen. Catching it early is key. Bill shares, “It may be genetic or from exposure, but it doesn’t just happen to women. You’ve got the same tissue as women, so check yourselves!”
- Breast cancer is not a death sentence. It IS survivable. Finding a good doctor to help you through it makes all the difference.
- Family members need to realize that chemotherapy makes life not normal. “It will bring out your worst or best side.” From “chemo brain” to feeling tired, life is going to change for a while. Caregivers need to realize that that’s the medication, not their loved one.
- If you get diagnosed with cancer, say to yourself every day, “I’m going to beat this.”
Since Bill’s cancer diagnosis five years ago, he has since had triple bypass surgery and a major stroke which temporarily caused him to be paralyzed. Bill is an amazing example that men don’t have to be embarrassed about a breast cancer diagnosis. Bill loves the New Orlean’s Saints, fought for his country, and defeated breast cancer. Thanks, Bill, for sharing your inspiring story and for striving to remove the stigma of men having breast cancer!