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Real Men Will Wear Pink

Herb Wagner – Male Breast Cancer Survivor


Updated November 09, 2011

Herb Wagner

Herb Wagner

Heidi Wagner
Q: You're a well-educated, physically active man's man. And naturally, you were shocked when you got your breast cancer diagnosis. What emotions did you experience, and how did you deal with those? What got you through this experience?

A: I was totally devastated when I received the diagnosis that I had breast cancer. It was a very traumatic, unreal experience. My first thoughts were, It's impossible -- it doesn't happen in men. It was such an unexpected diagnosis that I had trouble absorbing all the information regarding prognosis and treatment. I feared the worst - that I was dying from what I then considered was a woman's disease. After surgery, it was very important for me to learn all I could about MBC to better understand my personal situation. The support I received from my medical team, my daughters and from my many friends in Florida and in Canada was instrumental in getting me through the difficult times immediately following surgery. My daughters continue to be very supportive. As we travel through life, we all experience situations and meet people who have a dramatic impact on who we have become. My dearest and best friend, Barbara Francis, from Fairfield Ohio, was responsible for motivating me and helping me cope with breast cancer. Very sadly, Barbara passed away in July 2007 after a lengthy battle with cancer. As a tribute to her and with her support, I began and continue to take every opportunity I can to speak about MBC in order to increase awareness, early detection and to prevent the misdiagnosis of MBC.

Q: If you had no family history of breast cancer, since you were a chemist, do you ever wonder if there was something in the workplace or environment that caused your cancer?

A: Because there is no history of any type of cancer in my family, I am left to wonder how and why it occurred. As a scientist, I have perhaps a unique belief that all humans are born with a predisposition to cancer and other diseases. In other words, I believe that we all have the genetic potential to develop cancer. On the other hand, however, it is still unclear why some people develop cancer and others do not. During my lifetime, the occurrence of all types of cancer has increased significantly; the treatments used to fight this disease have also increased dramatically, resulting in improved survival rates for cancer patients. Advances in the techniques, along with the instrumentation used to detect cancer at an earlier stage, are important contributions to increasing cancer rates being reported. People are also generally living longer today than say, 50 years ago. However, I am also convinced that the chemicals used throughout the years to improve our standard and/or quality of life are also implicated in the higher incidence of cancer being reported. Unfortunately, the exact correlation between the two has yet to be fully defined. From my earliest days as a synthetic organic chemist, I always wondered if there would be a health risk associated with my chosen profession. I have spent the last 25 years of my career as an analytical environmental chemist developing methods for the analysis of potential carcinogens in beverages and in drinking water. While there may be health risks associated with certain professions, I personally do not attribute my cancer to being directly related to my profession as a chemist, the workplace or to the environment. While these all may have played a role, I truly believe that it was my luck of the draw, so to speak.

Update: In July 2009, my daughters helped me launch a web site dedicated to Male Breast Cancer, which I hope will raise awareness, provide information and support for men with breast cancer.

Men Can Get Breast Cancer, Too
Like Sean Cooper, Herb Wagner visited the doctor several times before getting the correct diagnosis. Male breast cancer is a condition that more men, as well as doctors, need to be aware of and educated about. Dr. Robert Blackburn, who properly diagnosed Herb, has been practicing medicine for more than 20 years and has seen only three cases of male breast cancer. Fortunately, he recognized the retracted nipple and firm surrounding tissue as symptoms that merited further examination. Men are usually slow to visit their doctor for a breast condition; such as a lump, skin change or inverted nipple. As a result, men are diagnosed at later stages than most women, which affects their treatment and survival. Learning to do your male breast self-exam and understanding the influence of environmental and family medical history, can help lead to early detection, prevention of metastasis, and better outcomes.

Previous Page: Diagnosis and Misdiagnosis of Male Breast Cancer

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