Anyone who talks to Cecil Herrin for more than a couple of minutes learns he has been through what many men can’t fathom.
“It’s the best-kept secret there is,” said Herrin, who owns the Grovetown construction company Cecil Herrin & Associates.
Now, Herrin encourages men to either check themselves regularly or have a loved one check them for breast abnormalities.
Herrin’s medical ordeal began about a year and a half ago, when he felt a knot the size of a BB near his right nipple. He asked his family doctor to take a look, and he was assured it was nothing.
Six months later, the knot had grown to the size of a marble.
During a routine visit with his cardiologist, he expressed his concern. His cardiologist recommended a mammogram. In January, a biopsy confirmed breast cancer.
“That was the most devastation I have ever known in my life,” he said. “I don’t smoke or drink, and there’s not cancer in my family nowhere. I never would have dreamed in a million years that I would have had breast cancer myself.”
He had a mastectomy and did not to need chemotherapy or radiation.
According to breastcancer.org, about 2,140 men were expected to be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in 2011, versus more than 230,000 women.
“(Men) account for about 1 percent of all breast cancer,” said Pam Anderson, the program coordinator for University Health System’s Breast Health Center.
She said this year about 450 men will die of the disease.
The risk is higher for men who have a family history. One in five men diagnosed has a family member who has had breast cancer, Anderson said.
Herrin said he believes it is his mission to tell people his story.
“Everybody’s got a father or an uncle, and they need to be told. I talk to so many people and they can’t believe a man has breast cancer. They don’t even think about it,” he said. “So that’s why I’m here: to really just try to get somebody to be aware.”
Because men are not usually screened for breast cancer, it is often found much the same way Herrin found his, through self-discovery. It is often detected during later stages, which makes it harder to treat.
“It’s the same thing we preach to women,” Anderson said. “The earlier you find it, the better your prognosis is.”
Herrin advises men to check themselves for lumps.
He isn’t afraid to show off his pink, either.
Herrin is the January portrait in University Health Care System’s 2013 Portraits of Life calendar, and he participated in the Macy’s fashion show at the annual Breast Cancer Survivor Dinner.
“I wore a pink tutu, and I had 250 women stand up and give me a standing ovation because I did twirl around,” he said. “I tell everybody, I’m not ashamed of what happened to me.”
Herrin said he hopes to draw out more men who have survived breast cancer. One male survivor told him he was glad to meet him because he felt like he was the only man who has dealt with the disease, Herrin said.
He said he plans to join University Health’s Pink Magnolia breast cancer support group, with the hope of bringing together more male survivors.
“I feel like if I can get in (the Pink Magnolias), I’ll get some men in there,” he said. “If a man is in there, they would come.”