I Had Never Even Heard of Male Breast Cancer
Robert Kaitz, 48, who lives in Severna Park, Md., was diagnosed with breast cancer in October 2006
"Men don't realize, we have all the same breast parts that a woman has."(ROBERT KAITZ)It was funny the way we caught my breast cancer. I had a sore throat, so I went to the doctor. I had a list, you know, "By the way, I also have acid reflux..." and he gave me a fistful of prescriptions. Then I said, "Oh, yeah, I forgot, I have this lump." I'd had it behind my left nipple for more than a year. I figured it was a cyst. There was no pain or discharge. I had never even heard of male breast cancer.
But the doctor told me, "You don't get cysts there." He sent me immediately for a mammogram and a sonogram. That doctor saw it was a solid mass and said, "You gotta do a needle biopsy." And that's when I found out it was cancer.
It was October 2006. I was like, "Oh, my God." You wonder what you've left out in life. I have two great sons that I raised myself. My youngest son is in the military; he was in Iraq while I was diagnosed. I didn't have a will yet. Then there's the fear of chemotherapy and treatments. My father died of colon cancer, and I was the one who brought him for chemo and treatment. Chemo was a lot different then; he was violently ill. But that scared me.
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My general practitioner told me to see a doctor who's well-known in the breast cancer arena. So I decided to go with Dr. Julie Lange at Johns Hopkins. She said the first thing before surgery is a needle biopsy for my lymph nodes, and that came back positive as well. We scheduled the surgery just two weeks after.
Next Page: Treatment routine [ pagebreak ]Same treatment routine as women
We did a radical mastectomy on the left, and they took out 25 lymph nodes at the same time. Men don't realize, we have all the same breast parts that a woman has, like milk ducts—just not the extra fat tissue. But unlike for a woman, in a man a mastectomy is not super-noticeable. I just don't have the movement in my left arm that I used to. If I try to extend myself too far, it hurts. It's also totally numb under my left armpit and in my left chest. And I do not have a nipple on the left side. It'd be one hell of a bar bet—or a bar joke.
Then I did chemo. First I did AC. I had no vomiting, no nausea, a little fatigue—I was truly blessed. The next one was Taxol. I had bone pain—it felt like someone was twisting my fibula like it was a licorice stick. After the Taxol, I got a little reprieve for a couple of weeks, then I started seven weeks of radiation.
Later they put me on tamoxifen. Like most men, my cancer is estrogen-receptor positive. I had so much estrogen in my body—I'd get hot flashes and was moody. Watching a movie, tears would pour off my face. But the tamoxifen was causing me headaches, depression, hot flashes.
Now, I'm taking indole-3-carbinol and DIM instead—natural estrogen suppressors found in broccoli and cauliflower. I learned about these from doctors at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium last December in Texas. They're working great. I feel amazing, back to normal.
Next Page: Life lessons [ pagebreak ]Same life lessons
About 1% of all breast cancer cases in the U.S. are among men. If I knew guys could get it, I would have gone to the doctor the second I noticed it. The mortality rate for men is 42% greater than for women because of late diagnosis.
This disease is more common in men 60 years old and older. Most guys in that generation don't want people to know they have a "woman's disease," so they hide it. That never crossed my mind. It was this close—my breast cancer was stage III—to metastasizing in another organ. If it had, I wouldn't have made it.
I'm a workaholic, but since the cancer, I've realized you've gotta live life to the fullest. Life is way too short. I'm planning to retire now in two to five years as opposed to 10 to 15.
I also work with the John W. Nick Foundation to raise awareness. If I can help one guy get diagnosed a little sooner, my life is good.