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John DiMichele gardens in his backyard at his home in Fairfield. DiMichele is a survivor of male breast cancer. Since his recovery, he has spent a lot of time gardening. (Aaron Rosenblatt/Daily Republic)


Lonely diagnosis: 1 man’s battle with breast cancer

By From page D1 | November 03, 2013

FAIRFIELD — The pink ribbons and T-shirts have been put away for another year.

By October 2014, about 250,000 American women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. About 2,200 men will get the same news; more than 400 of them will die.

Fairfield resident John DiMichele will likely know what they are going through. DiMichele, 60, battled breast cancer two years ago. It was just before Christmas when he found a lump on his chest.

“I thought it was just fatty tissue,” he said.

DiMichele told his doctor about the lump at a routine visit and was referred to a surgeon, who cut out the lump in his office. The topic of breast cancer hadn’t even surfaced. DiMichele was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma, the most common breast cancer in men and women.

“My jaw dropped with the news,” DiMichele wrote in an article for the American Cancer Society. “Honestly, I thought breast cancer was something that only affected women. I had never even heard of males being diagnosed with breast cancer.”

Sharing the news with others raised a lot of eyebrows and questions such as, “Really?” and, “Are you sure?”

He underwent a double mastectomy and had about a dozen lymph nodes removed from his left breast.

DiMichele left the hospital feeling like the “odd man out.” He could find breast cancer resources, but they were geared toward women who are 100 times more likely to get the disease.

Three rounds of chemotherapy followed. Within a month after surgery, he returned to work part time. He will take tamoxifen for the next few years to block the effects of the estrogen hormone in his body.

He shares his story in hopes other men may learn from it.

“I’m concerned there are a number of people out there who wait too long to get diagnosed,” he said.

Men diagnosed with Stage I breast cancer are given a 100 percent survival rate for five years at www.cancer.org. By Stage IV, that figure drops down to 20 percent.

Angie Carillo, with the American Cancer Society, said men don’t think of breast cancer when they find a lump in their breast area. Rather, they make think they hurt themselves somehow.

“I’ve spoken to wives of men who have had breast cancer and they are shocked as well (by the diagnosis),” she said.

DiMichele advises men to take responsibility for their health care and be willing to talk about breast cancer if they suspect something is wrong. In hindsight, he said he feels his first surgeon should have referred him to a cancer center rather than removing the tumor himself.

He said he received an apology from his primary care provider, who also promised not to make the same mistake again. He said he hopes the first surgeon will recall his case the next time he sees a man with a tumor in his breast area.

“I should have gotten a mammogram,” DiMichele said.

He understands that little attention is paid to male breast cancer, since it’s a rare diagnosis. Statistically, it’s not wise to spend resources on such a small group, DiMichele said.

The University of Colorado Cancer Center has done some research on male breast cancer.

“We know very little about male breast cancer since it comprises only 0.6 percent of all breast cancers and nearly all therapy is based on female cancer studies,” said Dr. Rachel Rabinovitch, investigator at the Colorado University Cancer Center, in a press release about a recent study.

Almost 90 percent of the men in the study opted for a mastectomy compared to 38 percent of women. The data came from the United States Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results Program database, which has collected cancer statistics for 40 years.

Like many cancer survivors, DiMichele reset his mind. He’s taking life easier, appreciating each day and finding therapy in his garden.

He deals with swelling in his left arm, due to the removal of the lymph nodes. It is aggravating and painful at times, he said. But he won’t let it stop him from living his life and it gives him the best excuse for a bad golf game, he said in jest.

DiMichele said he felt healthy before the cancer diagnosis. He walks two miles a day, swims three times a week and has cut down on the amount of starch in his diet.

“It’s something you go through yourself,” he said of the diagnosis. “Your life is the one that’s changing.”

Reach Amy Maginnis-Honey at 427-6957 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amaginnisdr.

Amy Maginnis-Honey

Amy Maginnis-Honey

Amy Maginnis-Honey joined the staff of the Daily Republic in 1980. She’ll tell you she was only 3 at the time. Over the past three decades she’s done a variety of jobs in the newsroom. Today, she covers arts and entertainment and writes for the Living and news pages.

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