We recently met Delia, who was diagnosed with Breast Cancer at age 28. Now we bring you Bret’s story. Bret Miller was a seemingly normal 24-year-old, athletic, healthy guy, with a mass in his right breast since the age of 17.
“The first time I noticed anything was when I was 17 years old and I found my first lump. I was going into my senior year of high school.
I brushed it off for a while, but then I had to get a physical before football started. I pointed it out to the doctor during my physical. He was kind of like, “Eh, you’re 17, you’re male, going through puberty. It’s probably a calcium buildup. It’ll dissipate and go away. Shouldn’t be anything to worry about.” So he brushed it off. And it was there for 7 years. I even saw another doctor and mentioned it before I left for college. And he basically said the exact same thing.
So 7 years later, I was 24. I never felt sick. I just had this lump. I was working, I had health insurance, so I finally decided to go see a doctor.
For a couple of years before my actual diagnosis, I was having discharge from my nipple near the lump. But I thought, thinking it wasn’t a big deal, that it was just the calcium deposit dissipating and going away. Just like the doctor told me. You hear something the doctor says, you want to believe them.
I don’t know if it was always cancerous, or if at some point it became cancer. None of the doctors have been able to figure that out. But there was just no awareness out there for men.
Everything you see is all pink. Rightfully so – more women are diagnosed than men. But it’s not a women’s disease. It’s a people’s disease. And that awareness is what needs to change.”
Another issue that men face when being diagnosed with breast cancer is finding a treatment that works. Bret found the research lacking. His physicians didn’t have a whole lot of information regarding treatment for men with this disease – it’s all geared towards women and what has worked for them.
Lack of information combined with a stigma around men with breast cancer makes it a “silent killer.” Even Bret’s diagnosis came following an awkward exam at a Women’s Clinic.
Bret was told he was being sent for imaging – no one mentioned the words “Women’s Clinic.” But Suite 200 was in fact a women’s clinic.
“Even the form I filled out was meant for women. Filled out my information and insurance, and the next questions are all about menstrual cycles, pregnancies. That’s just the form they have. At the time there was no generic form or male form. That’s something we’ve worked to change. And it’s important because there was nothing I could answer. No real useful medical information. And at the time, no one had mentioned the word cancer. I was just sent to a women’s clinic for an ultrasound.
The doctor doing the screening did a bit of a triple take, looking at me, the screen, and back again. After seeing the images, she recommended I go down the hall for a mammogram. Just so I wouldn’t have to come back, miss any more work. I didn’t even know that was physically possible!”
After Bret’s physician saw the imaging, he wanted to remove the lump right away. Bret was back at work the following day.
“I was back at work the next day. And as I was leaving work I got the call that preliminary results were back, and it is breast cancer.
I thought I was getting punked. I thought it was a joke. But at the time I thought that the lump was gone and that meant it was okay.”
From there, Bret began his journey into male breast cancer. He learned how inexperienced many physicians were. One surgeon wanted to perform a double mastectomy – and Bret learned he’d never even performed the surgery on a man.
“Between my age, my gender, and my diagnosis, my Nurse Navigators asked if I’d be okay with my case being shared with some of the top doctors in the area.”
Luckily, Bret found a great team of doctors and a more experienced surgeon. But he shared that support resources were essentially nonexistent for men with this disease.
“He told me, ‘If you’re willing to speak out and to share your story -use your age, that you’re a male- I think you can reach others’.
There just wasn’t a system of support. So we started something, the Bret Miller 1T Foundation. Our goal is to make sure men know we’re here and we are creating that support system.”
Bret’s mission in life now is to spread the word that men can get Breast Cancer, too. And that both men and women need to start checking themselves at a younger age because this disease is becoming more common in younger people. “Early detection is the key to survival.”
Bret is now a husband and father, and cancer-free.
Were you familiar with male breast cancer? Comments, questions? We’d love to hear from you!