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Self Examination Saves Lives: Breast cancer survivors share their experiences

September 3, 2013

Originally published on Oct. 15, 2012

Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in Georgia women and 1,100 die yearly.

Though men with breast cancer are not reflected in these stats, Stone Mountain resident Eric Dunlap is quick to inform others that men get breast cancer, too.

In 1999, Dunlap, then 33, noticed blood on his shirt while working in the yard and went to the doctor, who concluded some form of chest trauma caused the bleeding. Since the bleeding stopped, Dunlap sought no further diagnosis.

But one year later while completing pushups, Dunlap felt excruciating pain in his chest that took his breath. He grabbed his lower chest and detected a lump. The following day, he went to the doctor, who referred him to a surgical oncologist for immediate follow up on what appeared to be a tumor or cyst. It was later determined Dunlap had stage II breast cancer.

"I remember thinking, 'I am a man! Men do not really have breasts; we have a chest,'" said Dunlap.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the best way to detect breast cancer early is with mammograms and breast self-examinations, which help identify changes in the breast/chest area in women and men. Breast cancer can change how the breast looks and feels. Symptoms include new lump in the breast or underarm (arm pit); thickening or swelling of part of the breast; irritation or dimpling of breast skin; redness or flaky skin in the nipple area; nipple discharge other than breast milk, including blood; changing in size or shape of breast, and pain in any area of the breast or chest.  

Women who feel a lump detect 40 percent of diagnosed breast cancers, according to Johns Hopkins Medical Center. Breast self-examinations help women and men become more familiar with how their breasts/chests look and feel, and when to seek further screening.

Family medical history also plays a part. Though he is male, Dunlap is in the high-risk category for breast cancer. His mother is a two-time breast cancer survivor and his grandmother died from the same disease.

It has been three years since Monique King Young, an administrative operations coordinator for the Coastal Health District, was first diagnosed with stage II breast cancer.

Young, 46, remembers watching her favorite TV game show, "Wheel of Fortune," when she discovered a lump under her left breast. She checked again two days later and the lump was still there, so she made an appointment with her doctor.

Since 2009, Young has completed 16 sessions of chemotherapy and six reconstructive surgeries. Last week, her doctor conducted another biopsy on the reoccurring lumps in her left breast. She has a positive attitude as she waits on the results.

"This disease has changed my life," Young said. "In many ways, fighting breast cancer has opened my eyes to things that I thought would not happen to me. It has inspired me to live and never take anything for granted."

Dunlap knows how it feels to wait on test results. He remembers waiting for his initial results more than 12 years ago while trying to figure out how to tell his young wife and two small children. This year he is cancer free, celebrating 20 years of marriage and planning to take his 16-year-old son on the college tour circuit. These are milestones and miracles in Dunlap's world.

"I hope to enlighten men to know as much about their mother's medical history as they do their father's medical history," said Dunlap. "Men need to view health care as similar to auto maintenance. On a regular basis, it is necessary to maintain the engine of your vehicle for optimal performance."

Breast/Chest Self Examination
Women and men can conduct self-exams in the shower, in front of the mirror and lying down. Check the right and left breasts and chests areas. To do this, use the tips of your fingers to move around the entire breast in a circular pattern moving from the outside to the center and armpit. Look for contour changes, any swelling or dimpling of the skin, or changes in the nipples. When lying down, place a pillow under your left shoulder and your right arm behind your head. Use your left hand and the tips of your fingers to examine your breast/chest in small circular motions covering the entire area and armpit.