Yes, men get breast cancer, too
Mark Goldstein is an unusual man; he is one of a small number of men who have contracted and survived what is usually thought to be a women’s-only disease – breast cancer.
Goldstein, 66, lives in New Jersey and is an 11-year survivor of the disease who spends much of his time participating in cancer-awareness activities. Married and the father of three children, he is a semi-retired board member of a satellite communications company.
He said this week that approximately 1,400 men are diagnosed with breast cancer every year. And, he said, roughly 400 men die of the disease every year.
“Men aren’t supposed to get breast cancer,” he said Saturday after finishing the Susan B. Komen Race For The Cure in Aspen, wearing his trademark T-shirt that reads, “Men Share A Breasted Interest” on one side and carries the name of his sponsor, New Balance, on the other.
“And most men who get it don’t like to talk about it,” he added.
But, he continued, resorting to one of his oft-quoted standard remarks, “Men shouldn’t die from breast cancer out of ignorance. This is not an assault on your masculinity. If breast cancer was a sport, men would know all about it.”
It was 11 years ago when, having undergone several treatments for skin cancer, Goldstein and his wife, Joanie, decided that a lump discovered under his left nipple should not be ignored.
After a succession of examinations, he underwent a “modified radical mastectomy” in May 1988, followed by chemotherapy and radiation for nearly a year. The only remaining complication is a case of lymphedema, a vascular disorder caused by the loss of numerous lymph nodes, which requires regular monitoring and treatment.
Goldstein has been running in cancer awareness races since 1992, as a member of the Honorary Team New Balance – three women and one man. He ran in 18 races last year, and hopes to do 20 this year. If he does, he said, he will have reached a total of 62 races run since 1992.
“I started running because the New York City race [for the cure] was being advertised `for women only,'” he recalled. He and Joanie decided someone should do something to eradicate the stereotype that only women get breast cancer. So they entered the race as a husband and wife team, but disguised the fact by signing up using their initials instead of their first names.
When they showed up for the race, he said, “They tried to stop us from running. But I said, `Hey, I’ve had a radical mastectomy, radiation and chemo treatments. Except for the genitalia, I qualify.'”
They were allowed to run, and he has been ever since (Joanie sometimes does the “Walk For The Cure” because of difficulties with her knees, Goldstein said).
As for his mission, Goldstein related a story told to him by a man who came up to him at a race event once.
The man had noticed a lump in his breast, gone to a doctor and been told it was nothing. Then, the man read about Goldstein and his crusade to raise awareness about the incidence of male breast cancer, and he went back to his doctor and demanded the lump be checked out. It was malignant breast cancer.
“`You saved my life,’ he told me,” Goldstein said. “Who would have thought that, in the fourth quarter of my life a disease would give me an opportunity to directly and positively influence the future of my fellow human beings?”
He discourages the use of the word “survivor” in relation to his story, though, and prefers to view himself as a “victor” or a “conqueror” over the disease.
“We are more than survivors, we’re conquerors,” he said at a gathering in Aspen on July 16.
Goldstein conceded that there continues to be evidence of a bias against the idea that men can get breast cancer, even within the Susan B. Komen Foundation.
As he finished the race on Saturday, running with the women as he has done for years, a race official tried to stop him from finishing.
Making light of the incident, Goldstein said, “That doesn’t bother me, because I’m a victor, and I can overcome it. The women are survivors, I’m a survivor, and that’s where I belong.”
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