“When my doctor told me it was breast cancer, I thought he was joking” says Ron Coleman, a six-year survivor.
Although the incidence is about 100 times lower in men than in women (men have a 1 in 1,000 chance of developing the disease), more than 2,200 American men will be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013.
According to the American Cancer Society, it used to be believed that breast cancer was more deadly in men than in women, but recent studies show the prognosis is about the same for both sexes. However, Dr. Charles Shapiro, director of the Breast Research Program at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, says men tend to be diagnosed later, which can allow the disease to progress.
“Usually, men will not be bothered by a lump,” Shapiro says. “Initially, they may just hope it will go away.” But unless there is some obvious reason for the lump—a trauma to the chest, for instancemen should see a doctor immediately
Men should also be aware of any family history of breast and ovarian cancer. They may be affected by and carry the BRCA2 gene mutation, which puts women and men at higher risk for developing breast cancer. “They should be ultra sensitive to development of a lump, and it may be incentive for other members of the family to be tested,” Shapiro says.
In the face of his diagnosis, Coleman remained fiercely protective of his family. “I’m glad it was me versus my wife, my daughter, my daughters-in-law or anyone else in the family,” he says.
Through a lumpectomy, mastectomy and four rounds of chemotherapy, Coleman never missed a day work as an assistant principal at Stebbins High School in Dayton. He attributes his return to wellness to his faith in God and to his upbringing, which instilled the belief that there is no failure as long as there is effort left to be given.
Coleman also made the most of his personal connections and friendships. His school holds an annual pink-out, during which students and staff wear pink to raise awareness and money. He is father of former OSU Buckeye and current Philadelphia Eagles defensive back Kurt Coleman, another factor that has helped get the word out. Coleman serves as chief spokes of the Coleman4ACure foundationwas named honorary chair for the 2012 Komen Columbus Race for the Cure.
“When you give, you get back tenfold,” Coleman says. “We all have a purpose, even if we don’t always know what it is. But if you do things in the right way for the right people, the right results will happen.”
Steve Pollack’s breast cancer was diagnosed in 2007 when a routine chest X-ray revealed unexpected results. “I didn’t even know that men got breast cancer,” he says. “I was devastated. That’s not even on a guy’s radar screen.”
Pollack says at first he was embarrassed to have developed a disease commonly associated with women, but he pushed that aside. His cancer was removed through surgery, and although he had to have a reconstructive procedure to deal with restrictive scarring, he didn’t undergo chemotherapy or radiation.
He joined with nine other survivors and members of the OSU theater department to put on a play about male breast cancer. “It was liberating for me to realize that, because I have gone through this, I can help other people by relating my experience,” he says.
He now volunteers two days a week at Ohio Stateat the Martha Morehouse Clinic and the Stefanie Spielman Breast Center, and also speaks frequently to groups about his experiences.
Pollack says he doesn’t believe in luck, but he knows his purpose is to be a light for others. He’s also living life to the fullest“Every day, I get up thankful I’ve been given another day,” he says. “I was blessed to survive, but I’m no longer just a survivor. I’m a thriver.”
Kristin Campbell is a freelance writer.