JaDee Dwight has been surrounded by pink for the past three years. It’s not the Pierpont, South Dakota, farmer’s favorite color, but like the character Gary on the current ABC show A Million Little Things, Dwight is a male breast cancer survivor.
“JaDee has endured wearing a pink gown and the stigma of being a man with a ‘woman’s cancer,’” said his wife, Amy. “This disease is not only for women. I feel that we can do better to inform everyone that men can get the disease, too.”
The lifetime risk of male breast cancer is about 1 in 833, compared to 1 in 8 for women, according to the American Cancer Society. In the U.S. this year, roughly 2,550 men will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer, and about 480 men will die from the disease.
‘I remember being in a pink gown’
JaDee Dwight, a father of two young girls, had noticed unusual soreness on his left side for months, but he had brushed it off as bruising from working on the farm. As a nurse at Sanford Aberdeen Medical Center, Amy Dwight monitored the area and pushed him to have a physical exam.
“They thought it was just a fatty deposit and said it was something we should keep an eye on,” Amy said. “A few months later, I noticed it had gotten bigger. I told him I thought we needed to do some more tests.”
So, at age 36, JaDee Dwight found himself surrounded by women in a mammography center. “I remember being in a pink gown,” he said. “It was strange and almost embarrassing.”
Amy Dwight said she may be a little more sensitive to all the pink than her husband is. “Even the patient questionnaire was weird for him. It asked things like, ‘When did you have your last period?’ The staff were all great, but things like that made it a little harder.”
JaDee Dwight had a biopsy done at Edith Sanford Breast Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The results led to a mastectomy, followed by chemotherapy and radiation.
Just as he didn’t let embarrassment deter him from getting the help he needed, he also revealed his diagnosis to others. He told his family and friends about his male breast cancer, and when word spread, the small town rallied around him with fundraisers. Local high school football players shaved their heads in support.
Although men with breast cancer tend to receive the same treatment as women, they often are diagnosed at a later stage, with larger tumors. Men with breast cancer often have mastectomies and more radiation. The survival rate of men with breast cancer is about the same as women diagnosed at the same stage.
‘I was speechless’
It shocked Andre Johnson to find out that the cause of small bump on the left side of his chest.
“I was speechless,” the 50-year-old said. “How can a male have breast cancer? How could this happen to me? Then it became kind of scary. I never knew how fatal it could be. That’s when it got serious for me.”
Johnson had no family history of breast cancer. But because he found the small lump on his chest, doctors caught his cancer early, at stage 1.
He received treatment at the Edith Sanford Breast Center in Bismarck, North Dakota, and said he found a welcoming face at each appointment.
“Without them, and without people like them who genuinely care about your well-being, it’s just hard to deal with,” Johnson said. “It made it easier to come every week for treatment, because I knew I was going to find encouragement and get a smile.”
Today, Johnson has no cancer and looks forward to a future with his 3-year-old daughter, Ava, and fiancée, Lakisha.
“If I didn’t get treated, if I didn’t get the right attention, it could have been fatal,” he said. “It could’ve been a whole different story.”
‘Early detection is the key’
JaDee and Amy Dwight continue living on the farm and spending more time with their daughters, Brooke, 10, and Bailey, 7. His journey has made a big difference for him, as he has shared his experiences and connected with other cancer survivors, including male breast cancer survivors around the country.
And the experience inspired Amy Dwight to move from a nursing administrative role to the pursuit of a degree as a nurse practitioner, focusing on direct patient care.
However, JaDee Dwight wishes he would have paid attention to his body and gone to the doctor earlier. The cancer has spread to other parts of his body, and he’s now at stage 4. He said his odds of being alive in five years stand at about 20 percent.
“If you notice anything, you need to get it checked out. Cancer has no prejudice -– young, old, male or female,” JaDee Dwight said. “Early detection is the key.”
Male breast cancer symptoms, risk factors
The National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health lists possible signs of male breast cancer that warrant checking with your doctor:
- A lump or thickening in or near the breast or in the underarm area.
- A change in the size or shape of the breast.
- Fluid from the nipple, especially if it’s bloody.
- A dimple or puckering in the skin of the breast.
- A nipple turned inward into the breast.
- Scaly, red, or swollen skin on the breast, nipple, or areola (the dark area of skin around the nipple).
- Dimples in the breast that look like the skin of an orange, called peau d’orange.
Risk factors may include:
- Having a disease linked to high levels of estrogen in the body, such as cirrhosis (liver disease) or Klinefelter syndrome (a genetic disorder).
- Treatment with radiation therapy to your breast/chest.
- Having one or more female relatives who have had breast cancer.
- Having mutations (changes) in genes such as BRCA2.
More about male breast cancer
- Video with Andre Johnson talking about his experience
- Breast cancer: Why there’s more to it than you think
- Breast cancer survivorship 101
- The importance of screenings, examinations and following a doctor’s recommendations.