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It’s time to talk about it in our Latino community: Male Breast Cancer

By Capt Eduardo Wilson,
Hawaii Hispanic News

KAPOLEI, Hawaii — I am a 58-year-old male airline pilot (Alaska Airlines), who recently underwent a left modified radical mastectomy for breast cancer.

T2, N1, M0. Are these the codes for the engine stages on the Boeing 737-900? No, they are the codes that describe the stages of my breast cancer.

(Editor’s Note: According to the American Cancer Society: “The TNM staging system
classifies cancers based on their T, N, and M stages:

• The letter T, followed by a number from 0 to 4, describes the tumor’s size and spread to the skin or to the chest wall under the breast. Higher T numbers mean a larger tumor
and/or wider spread to tissues near the breast.
• The letter N, followed by a number from 0 to 3, indicates whether the cancer has spread to lymph nodes near the breast and, if so, how many lymph nodes are affected.
• The letter M, followed by a 0 or 1, indicates whether the cancer has spread to distant
organs — for example, the lungs or bones.)

In June of 2000, while on a layover, I felt a stinging sensation under my left nipple. The sensation disappeared the following day. A few months later, I felt a hardness in the same area, but it was not permanent.

I asked my doctor about this problem. He informed me that it might be a condition called gynecomastia – enlargement of male breast tissue.

At my next physical, I told my doctor I wanted the tissue removed. It was removed and felt fine with just a little soreness under my nipple area. The following week I surprised to learn that the pathology report indicated some cancerous cells. The diagnosis revealed
infiltrating ductal carcinoma, the most common type of breast cancer.

The news of this report was both numbing and overwhelming. But I wasn’t alone. The report also surprised my doctor. He wanted to proceed with surgery as soon as possible.

My first reaction was that I needed more time to comprehend all of this, as the initial impact was bewildering. I also wanted to consult with other specialists regarding my cancer.

I had SO many questions and was torn between wanting to know and not wanting to know the answers: How could a guy get breast cancer? Was it something I did? What
was the prognosis? and – the worst of all – What were my chances?

During the next two weeks I had several consultations with doctors and an oncologist regarding my case. The most difficult day for me was the day I went to pick up my pathology results from the lab. When I received the slides, I remember feeling the weight of a bowling ball in my hands. I went to my car and just sat in it for several minutes.

The slides had a case identification number and – though I wished it wasn’t
— I knew that this number was mine.

I underwent the modified radical mastectomy. (Editor’s Note: According to WebMD – “During a modified radical mastectomy, the surgeon removes the breast (including the
skin, breast tissue, areola, and nipple) and most of the lymph nodes under the arm. The lining over the large muscle in the chest, called the pectoralis major, is also removed.

However, this surgery spares the pectoralis major muscle itself.) I kept thinking about this very big word – MASTECTOMY — and what it meant.

How would I look? Would I feel different?

The surgery itself was fast and my entire family was there for support. The surgeons removed all of the remaining cancerous area along with five lymph nodes. Only one of the nodes was positive.

Once the surgery was complete, the road to recovery began. With the cancer removed, and the pathology report verified, treatment options followed.

My treatments consisted of: 12 weeks of chemotherapy using two drugs; then 12 weeks with a different drug, in three-week intervals. My test revealed that I was estrogen receptor-positive.

(Editor’s Note: According to Breastcancer.about. com: “Estrogen Receptor positive (ER+)
means that estrogen is causing your tumor to grow, and that the cancer should respond well to hormone suppression treatments.”)

Approximately 85 percent of all male breast cancers are positive for this hormone. Today I continue with hormone therapy, which helps reduce the amount of estrogen in my body.

An oncologist determined I was not a candidate for radiation therapy.
The actor Richard Roundtree, well-known for the film “Shaft,” underwent a mastectomy several years ago and has spoken about male breast cancer on several talk shows. His article in the April 24, 2000 issue of People magazine is a very interesting

I have had the pleasure of corresponding with Mr. Roundtree via e-mail and telephone.

Male Breast Cancer is rare, but not as rare as one would think. (Editor’s Note: According to “Estimated new cases and deaths from breast cancer (men only) in the United States in 2011: New cases – 2,140 / Deaths – 450”).

I have been fortunate and will attest that faith, family, and friends have been the cornerstone to my recovery. There have been many scientific advances in the treatment of breast cancer since the beginning of my case in 2000.

While this had been my case, don’t let it be yours.

Early detection is the key! If you have any question or the slightest concern, go get checked!

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