Do any of you know a man who’s had breast cancer? For the majority of you who answered “no,” please allow me to introduce Allen Wilson, this year’s Chair for the Houston 2011 Komen Race for the Cure®. A two-time breast cancer survivor, and an adventurer who embraces life in every sense of the word, Allen is a cautionary tale for every man. Yes men get breast cancer, too, and just like women, men need to do regular self-breast exams.<PREVIEWEND>
Even though Allen Wilson had been aware of the lump under his right nipple, it took colliding with his son while playing basketball to get his attention. “That really hurt,” he told me. “Two days later I had a mammogram. It’s amazing what those technicians can do with so little tissue to work with.” Shortly there after, in 2003, Allen had a mastectomy.
When Allen told a woman he worked with that he’d just had a mastectomy, she thought he said “vasectomy” until he raised his shirt, showed her his bandages and his drainage tubes and grinned. Like everything else Allen Wilson does in life, he’s handled his breast cancer with humor and determination. After his hair began to fall out during his first go-round with chemo, his sons, Robert and Michael, gave him a Mohawk and painted one side of it red and the other side green for their family Christmas photo.
After his mastectomy and prescribed rounds of chemotherapy were over, Allen began training for his climb to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro where, in 2006, he placed pink ribbons as summit markers. The same year, Allen’s breast cancer returned in the location of his mastectomy scar, and another surgery and some really “serious chemo” and radiation ensued. “Maintenance,” he calls it, with no reference to the word “recurrence.”
Allen’s cell phone is a breath-taking photo album of not only his climbs on world famous mountains around the world, but of he and his wife, Lisa, skydiving and their 2010 participation in the second Egyptian Komen Race for the Cure® around the Sphinx and the Great Pyramids of Giza. The same year, Allen also spoke at the inaugural Komen Race for the Cure® in Jerusalem.
Allen is only the second man I’ve met who’s had breast cancer. The first male breast cancer survivor I met was actor, Richard Roundtree, better known for his role as super-cop “Shaft,” the ABC miniseries Roots as well as Desperate Housewives and his recurring role on Gray’s Anatomy. In 1993, Richard found a lump about the size of a pencil eraser in the shower while filming a movie in Costa Rica.
“When I was diagnosed, nobody gave me any information about breast cancer or how to get through treatment. No pamphlets, no cautions about what to eat, what not to eat, how to take care of myself, nothing," Richard told me a few years ago when he wrote a piece for my book, Breast Cancer Sisterhood, A Guide to Practical Information & Answers to Your Most Intimate Questions. "I was only told I needed a mastectomy and six months of chemotherapy, so that’s what I did.”
Richard Roundtree and Allen Wilson are great role models and reminders for every man to do monthly self-breast exams. Even though less than one percent of breast cancers occur in men, the incidence is on the rise. Because men delay seeing their doctors if they notice a lump or something unusual in the breast area, their breast cancers are often diagnosed when the disease is more advanced. As a result, their prognosis may not be as good had they found it earlier.
To Allen and Richard, from the men you've helped, along with the wives, sisters, mothers and daughters who love them, we thank you.
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