For men, the lifetime chance of getting breast cancer is 1 in 1,000. For Justin Langley of Hampton, Virginia, he was that unlucky one.
“There’s a manly cancer and a girly cancer,” says Langley’s initial thought when he was told the news, just a short six weeks ago. “I couldn’t believe I had breast cancer.”
In society, the words breast cancer and men sound almost like an oxymoron. The disease isn’t as common as it is for women, but it does affect a sizable population. According to the American Cancer Society, about 2,190 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in 2012 among men and about 410 men will die from it.
In the African-American community, those diagnosed face a lower chance of survival than white men. According to research released in March 2007 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, it concludes that black men were more likely to have later-stage disease and larger tumors than white men, and five-year survival was about 90 percent among white patients but 66 percent among black patients.
For Langley, a random conversation sparked his curiosity about the disease and saved his life.
“My mom and I were talking about birth control and she said ‘it’s possible to get pregnant on birth control, that’s how I got pregnant with you.’”
By the time Langley’s mother, also a breast cancer survivor, found out she was pregnant and stopped taking birth control, she was already five weeks along with baby Justin. He did research and went to his doctor and asked about side effects of being conceived on birth control. When he learned that a hormonal imbalance was one of them, he decided to take action.
“I jokingly asked my doctor for a mammogram. As he checked my breasts he felt lumps, and being the man that I am, I thought he was just feeling my muscles. He put me in for a biopsy and told me both breasts had tumors in them.”
When asked if he wanted to undergo a combination of chemotherapy and radiation treatments or surgery, he opted for the surgery. I had no plans of breastfeeding so I was like ‘let’s do the surgery,’” he said, laughing.
Langley had a double mastectomy on October 4, the same procedure performed on his mother 12 years ago.
“It hurt a lot. They cut a six-inch incision under both breasts and took off four inches of my chest,” he explained.
When asked which hurt more: the surgery or his pride, it was a quick response.
“The pride,” he answered. “Dealing with the cancer never bothered me. I’m strong in my faith. It’s in God’s plan what He has for me, it will be.”
Mark Robson, medical oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center says that ego may keep men away from getting a checkup, but they need to think about their health more.
“Especially for a disease that is perceived to be a woman’s disease, what does this mean about me being a man? If you’re worrying about being macho, you’ll end up dead,” he said.
What’s most surprising about Langley’s story is his age: he’s only 28. The average age for a man to be diagnosed with breast cancer is 68 — an age that, thankfully to his quick action, he will live to see. His life was deeply impacted and turned for the better in less than two months, while others can suffer for years.
“There’s been an ongoing discussion about why there is an outcome of racial disparity,” Robson said. “But regardless of race, male breast cancer is an issue because men don’t like to think about it.”
“As a Black man, we don’t go to the doctor unless we break something. We refuse to get those things checked,” he admitted. “I found a lump on my testicles months ago and it was benign, so I didn’t worry about it further. I may have been able to detect [cancer] from then.”
In Langley’s case, his family history played a strong role in his cancer discovery, and he stressed the importance of knowing that information.
“Know all of the surgeries your parents have had,” he said. “Then go back another generation and find out about the medical history of your grandparents.”
Langley recently went for his post-surgery checkup. He’s now cancer free.
Chantell Black is a freelance multimedia journalist from Brooklyn, NY. She is passionate about covering stories regarding health, business and entertainment in the black community. You can follow her @BlacknBklyn.