Join us Thursday at 11 a.m. PT for a tweetchat on male breast cancer. To participate, use the hashtag #ChatFredHutch.
Editor’s note: This is the second in a two-part series on male breast cancer. Read part one here.
Steve Del Gardo was at the pool when he noticed the stares again. This time it was a group of 12-year-old boys gawking. They weren’t the only ones who had stared that summer, and Del Gardo was getting a bit tired of the attention.
“So when one of them said, ‘Mister, what happened to your nipples?’ I leaned over and asked him, ‘Do you know that game, nipple twister?’” Del Gardo recalled. The boy nodded. “I said, ‘I played that game, and mine fell off.’ The look of horror on his face was priceless.”
The boy’s mother didn’t find Del Gardo’s tall tale particularly precious and stomped over to tell him so — but stopped short when she saw the mastectomy scars carved into both sides of his chest. It wasn’t childhood hijinks that had left him nipple-less. Del Gardo is one of a rare group: men diagnosed with breast cancer.
Cancer feels like a betrayal, a mutiny of the body. Facing an unexpected type of cancer, a cancer they didn’t even consider to be physically possible, leaves some patients feeling doubly shocked and betrayed. Men diagnosed with a disease most people associate exclusively with women can feel confused and isolated.
Del Gardo, who has made male breast cancer outreach and education his mission, estimates that about 98 percent of people who approach him are women, on behalf of men in their lives with breast cancer.
“Men are too afraid to come forward,” he said.