This Man Survived Breast Cancer: He Wants to Make Sure You Do, Too

When Gerry Bourguignon of Mill Valley, California first discovered a lump on his chest, breast cancer was the furthest thing from his mind. He figured what most men would figure. It’s a bump from some hit he didn’t remember taking. An insignificant irritation. Something that would go away in due course. Except that it didn’t. On the advice of his primary care physician, he went for a mammogram. Yes, a mammogram. Men can get mammograms, too.

“It was strange to have to go to a clinic for a mammogram,” Gerry told Care2 in an interview. He was the only man there that day. Someone even told him he couldn’t have a mammogram because he’s not a woman. Not true.

It’s a good thing he got that mammogram, because the images revealed a suspicious-looking mass. Doctors at Marin General Hospital took the same next step that they would with a woman. They performed a needle biopsy. Gerry soon learned that he had invasive ductal carcinoma. At 68 years old, he was a man with breast cancer.

“I didn’t find it so horrible. I knew it’s a very rare occurrence, but it happens and you deal with it. You just need to get the best care you can,” he said.

Gerry’s treatment at Marin General included surgery to remove the tumor. “I was fortunate to have a great surgeon,” he said.

There was no lymph node involvement and he was grateful to learn it was stage 1. It was decided that chemotherapy and radiation weren’t necessary. His breast cancer was hormone positive, though, so his doctors put him on tamoxifen. It’s the same prescription used to treat women with hormone-positive breast cancer. Most people with hormone-positive breast cancer take tamoxifen up to five years to cut down on the chances of recurrence.

Gerry found the side effects were interfering with his ability to enjoy his usual activities. Those side effects included joint pain, muscle pain, and fatigue. After a year and a half on tamoxifen, Gerry decided to stop taking the drug.

For five years, he continued to see his oncologist for blood work every six months. Gerry has been cancer-free for six years now, but he hasn’t put breast cancer behind him. Instead, he works to bring male breast cancer out of the shadows.

“There’s such a lack of understanding and awareness of male breast cancer. Even though men represent only about one percent of breast cancer cases, that’s not a small figure. Most don’t get diagnosed early enough. Late diagnosis usually has a worse prognosis,” he said.

“If a man understands it’s not a shameful thing to be diagnosed with breast cancer and they take care of it early, it can be handled. If you don’t, you’re heading into such a bad thing.”

The problem, according to Gerry, is that because the numbers are low, little research and few clinical studies are carried out on men with breast cancer. While it’s the same disease, men and women have different hormone levels. That means that if men get the same treatment as women, it’s probably not optimal.

So, why did Gerry get breast cancer in the first place?

Why anyone gets any type of cancer isn’t always clear. Both of Gerry’s parents were heavy smokers when he was growing up, though he never smoked. As a teenager, he worked in greenhouses, where he sprayed pesticides and herbicides without proper protection.

His sister is also a breast cancer survivor, but they both tested negative for mutated BRCA genes, which are linked to high risk of breast cancer.

One year after the breast cancer diagnosis, Gerry had another problem. His peripheral vision wasn’t normal. That’s when he found out he had a noncancerous pituitary tumor called a prolactinoma, which was pressing on the optic nerve. That tumor was producing high levels of prolactin, a hormone linked to breast milk production. That was successfully treated as well.

What Men Need to Know about Breast Cancer

The most important thing Gerry wants to share with men is this: Be aware it is possible. If you feel a lump in your breast, don’t ignore it. Have your physician check it out. Delaying diagnosis can give the cancer time to spread.

Gerry searched for an appropriate breast cancer support group, but women’s breast cancer groups weren’t a good fit. The closest he could come was a support group for men whose loved ones have breast cancer. He feels it’s a group where he can contribute and perhaps help others.

Some men may find it embarrassing to say they have breast cancer, but Gerry isn’t one of them. In fact, he’s trying to recruit more men to talk about it.

In 2016, about 2,600 men in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer. Survival rates for men are about the same as they are for women. However, because men tend to delay seeing a doctor, they’re often diagnosed at a late stage.

It doesn’t matter how small your overall risk may be. What matters is that if it happens, you don’t ignore it. No matter who you are, early treatment — before cancer has the chance to spread outside the breast — offers you the best chance of long-term survival.

Related Stories
Breast Cancer: It’s Not Just for Women
Man With Breast Cancer Says, “Don’t Be Embarrassed…It’s Too Important”
New Follow-up Care Guidelines for Breast Cancer Survivors

Image Credit: Thinkstock

55 comments

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallusabout a year ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Carol S.
Carol Sabout a year ago

I'm glad Gerry has managed all these illnesses and is spreading the word.

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mac C.
mac Cabout a year ago

Happy Gerry's doing so well and working to get his story out to other men. Thank you for posting his message.

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Graham P.
Graham Pabout a year ago

Good article and testicle awareness is also needed. You should check yourself on a regular basis, if you don't know how to check just Google it great info on the internet.

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Margie FOURIE
Margie Fabout a year ago

Breast cancer awareness is so important. Probably more so in men as women seem to be more aware of it.

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heather g.
heather gabout a year ago

The fact that he is proactive and positive has a lot to do with how he dealt with the impact of the news of this condition....

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Ron B.
Ron Babout a year ago

Heck, I want to make sure that I never get breast cancer in the first place.

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Jan N.
Jan Nabout a year ago

I've always wondered how they do a mammogram on a man. Most men don't have a lot to work with.

Anyway, best to Gerry from one breast cancer survivor to another.

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John chapman
John chapmanabout a year ago

Heard of a couple of cases, but Gerry's right. It is rare

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Ingrid Bonte
Ingrid Bonteabout a year ago

Thanks for sharing the very best to you Gerry.

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