Check Your Breasts: A Man Talk You Won't Want to Miss

May 5, 2018

A guy with breast cancer reveals a secret that can save your life.

I've been a professional magician for over 50 years. "I bet you wish you could make your cancer vanish,” someone once said to me. But instead, like so many of us, I spend my time making sure that it doesn't return.

Yesterday I visited Arizona Oncology here in Tucson for my six-month mammogram. I have chosen to call it a "man-o-gram" because in the first year of my recovery from male breast cancer, I was still a bit put off by the notion that men have breasts and do indeed get breast cancer.

I'm not alone in this. Male breast cancer still carries an enormous stigma that we lug around with all the weight of misinformation, confusion and downright awkwardness that rare diseases can exhibit.

It's a heavy load to bear for many men, and as a result, we tend to rationalize that little bump just below our nipple (There I've said it! Guys have nipples) and we carry on with our manly enterprises in hopes that this, too, shall pass. If you're a “gambling man,” that may seem like a logical tactic. But in this case, the poker chips on the table are the remaining days in your life.

It's not a good bet.

Magicians do not reveal their secrets, but this is one time when the good of the many become more important than the good of the one. So here it is:

Guys, check your breasts.

I promise you, the first time you do it, and do it properly, you'll stop feeling less manly about probing your pectorals. If it helps, I suggest grunting a bit as you perform the procedure. And while I'm at it, (at the risk of scaring off even more of the guys I'm hoping to reach), testicular cancer is seriously underestimated, too, and you really ought to be performing the simple self-exam in that mysterious and oft overlooked section of your anatomy as well. But I'll leave that for another discussion.

Prevention is what kills cancer best.

Your odds of being diagnosed with some form of the disease are 1 in 3. Sure, the odds of contracting male breast cancer are just 1 in 1,000, but it's the very rarity of it that makes it so deadly. In most cases, it's not discovered until late stages. Fortunately, there is a proven and reliable antidote for that and I know what it is. It's that secret thing we've been talking about:

Guys, check your breasts.

As for the mammogram, it's not without some controversy. In my case, an ultrasound was followed with a mammogram, a needle biopsy and mastectomy. I find it to be a useful test for early detection of cancer forming in my remaining breast. And if you test positive for BRCA2 genes, you have an increased risk of male breast cancer. A mammogram may be helpful in that case.

Once you pass through that initial masculinity challenge, checking your breasts in the shower will be as natural as shaving. Do it every day. And if you don't shave, do it every day anyway. And most importantly, (otherwise everything we've discussed here will be useless) if you detect a bump or a lump or what you might think is a cyst or a pimple, check it out. Now.

It likely is just one of those benign things (remember those 1,000 to 1 odds) so you can count on getting on with your life while knowing you'll never have to utter the words, " I sure wish I had found this sooner.”


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