Breast cancer is usually characterized as a women’s disease; maybe because of all the pink. Indeed, it is a cancer that mainly affects women, but the statistics show that about one in a hundred cases occurs in men, and about 450 men die of the disease each year. 

One male breast cancer survivor is 55-year-old Maumelle resident and former Marine Randy Burroughs, who said he had no idea that men could get breast cancer until a doctor told him in 2002 that an odd lump on his chest was cancerous.

"I went for neck pain and to see if I had some other problems," he said. "It was a new doctor and I was telling him my history and everything, and I was telling him that I had this little lump form on my chest — not on the nipple, but on the chest. The doctor thought it should be looked at by a surgeon, and the surgeon thought it should go. 

"I woke up all groggy (after surgery to remove the lump) with the doctor’s head hanging over my face and he kind of smiles and tells me I’ve got breast cancer."

Burroughs said he wasn’t surprised to hear that he had cancer. His father had prostate cancer, he said, and "I’ve had the impression in my mind that just about everybody’s going to get cancer some time or another." He was surprised by what kind he had, though. 

"I had no idea that men could get breast cancer," he said. "My dad didn’t now how to tell his golf buddies that his big, bad former Marine son had breast cancer."

His was a fairly rare and aggressive cancer, Burroughs said, and so the treatment was similarly aggressive. Lymph nodes were removed, a round of chemotherapy was started that "almost killed me," he said, and eventually he had a mastectomy that removed a good deal of pectoral muscle mass and left him weaker on his right side.

He had to take a year off work during his treatment, he said, which gave him time, when he felt up to it, for the hobby that caused him to move from California to Arkansas in 2000: researching Civil War history and making replica Civil War-era flags (Burroughs’ flags have appeared in films including "Gettysburg" and "Dances with Wolves").

Since his diagnosis he’s found out that a few male celebrities share his condition. Peter Criss, a founding member of the band KISS, was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a mastectomy in 2008 and Richard Rountree, the actor who played fictional detective John Shaft, whose masculinity was seldom called into question over the course of three films and a TV series, spoke a few years ago at Conway Regional Medical Center on his experience with breast cancer.

Burroughs joins these celebrities in urging men to move beyond the perception that there is something unmanly about breast cancer and to see a doctor when something seems amiss with their breasts.

"I don’t know if it’s because I’m a former Marine or what, but the stuff about my masculinity, that didn’t bother me at all. Anybody who’s avoiding going to the doctor because of that ... just needs to get over it and get it checked out and get it over with and not worry about the impression that other people have about their masculinity. 

"It’s hard going through the chemo, and they’ve got to be willing to fight. I’d say that if they want to prove their masculinity they can do so by going through it with a happy face."

(Staff writer Joe Lamb can be reached at 505-1238 or by E-mail at joe.lamb@thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit.)