Men and Breast Cancer: Five Years After an Unexpected Diagnosis
James Fleming didn’t know that men could get breast cancer until he was diagnosed in June 2008.
And it is rare: Male breast cancer accounts for only 1 percent of all breast cancers in the United States. The lifetime risk of developing breast cancer for women is 1 in 8; for men, it’s 1 in 1,000.
Men also tend to be more resistant to seeking medical help. “When guys have something that itches, we scratch it,” says Mr. Fleming, “and that’s it.”
So when he first noticed his symptom of an inverted, hardened nipple, he considered it a minor annoyance and ignored it for more than a month — until his wife Judy, a retired nurse, urged him to see a doctor.
Battling Breast Cancer
Tests showed that his cancer was malignant. Mr. Fleming first had a mastectomy and then, 10 days later, surgeons removed 17 lymph glands. After he underwent four months of chemotherapy treatments, his doctors then prescribed a regimen of long-term hormone therapy.
As frightening as his diagnosis was, Mr. Fleming was determined to be proactive with his strategy to beat the cancer. He began keeping a journal about his experience and shared it with friends online, using humor to express his thoughts about the irony of having breast cancer. “I had my oncologist write a prescription for me to use the women’s tees in golf,” he jokes.
While the disease and treatments are physically similar for men and women, the emotional and mental challenges are different. “Emotions and guys are like oil and water,” Mr. Fleming wrote in his journal. “When I was growing up, real men didn’t cry. By that standard I have failed more than once.”
Celebrating Five Years, Cancer Free
In gratitude for his care, the Flemings, who also have supported adult and pediatric heart programs at Cleveland Clinic, made a $100,000 gift to the Breast Center. The chemotherapy area at Cleveland Clinic’s Beachwood Family Health Center, where Jim was treated, is named in the couple’s honor.
Last September, the couple celebrated his fifth year of being cancer free. More than 150 friends and family gathered to wish him well, all wearing pink, of course.
Today, Mr. Fleming is active with new business ventures and his golf game. He’s also a strong advocate for male breast cancer awareness, speaking at colleges and seminars and mentoring other men diagnosed with breast cancer.
He is grateful to his wife and family, friends and Cleveland Clinic for their support and encouragement during his breast cancer treatments.
“I learned that your body is always talking to you – you may not like what it is saying, but you’d better listen.”