PRAIRIE VILLAGE, Ks. — Most people associate breast cancer as being a women’s disease. However, about 2,800 American men will be diagnosed with it this year.
That’s significantly less than the estimated 280,000 women who will be diagnosed, but it’s still an important figure.
Bret Miller, 38, is from the greater Kansas City area.
He’s now 13 years breast cancer-free and has shared his story countless times to raise awareness about male breast cancer. He was just 17 when he first told doctors about something unusual with his right breast.
“I brought up the lump to them and they said, ‘It’s a calcium buildup. It should go away’,” said Miller.
But it didn’t.
His stage 1 diagnosis came seven years later when he was 24, and that’s only after he advocated for himself and chose to get second and third opinions. His symptoms included that lump as well as discharge from the nipple.
When he went in for his yearly physical, doctors didn’t check his breasts until he mentioned the odd lump. They told him it was likely a calcium buildup.
However, he insisted, and they set him up for a sonogram.
“What I did not know, and I let all my men know, is that [the sonogram] will be at a women’s clinic. Don’t be ashamed or alarmed when you walk in.” Bret had to fill out an information sheet which asked for his name, address, last menstrual cycle, and if he was pregnant.
Not only that, when he went back for his scan, he was handed a pink gown.
After his sonogram and mammogram, his doctor ordered a lumpectomy but warned Bret that insurance might not pay it since it’ll have the words “male, chest, and surgery.” His insurance company refused to cover it at first, but later changed course.
He eventually underwent a mastectomy and four rounds of chemotherapy.
His first surgeon wanted to do a double mastectomy and had never performed it on a male. Uncomfortable with that, Bret found a second surgeon who would perform a single mastectomy and had also operated on another man with breast cancer.
“He [the doctor] said most of the men took time off work, got the surgery, went back to work, and never talked about it, and he was like, ‘I can reach out if you have any questions, but they probably won’t respond to me.’”
Those words stuck with Bret, who’s been cancer-free for 13 years and hasn’t had an issue since. So, he decided to be the face of male breast cancer. Bret first founded the Bret Miller 1T Foundation, which has now morphed into Male Breast Cancer Happens.
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Through the organization he shares his personal story, resources for other men with a breast cancer diagnosis, how to properly examine your breasts for lumps, fellow survivor stories, and virtual events.
His foundation’s grown a massive following, which has taken him to Good Morning America, Katie Couric’s talk show Katie, and The Doctors.
“That’s been one of our missions is to make sure that no man is alone when they hear the words, ‘You have breast cancer.'”
His mom, Peggy, also helps run the organization, and she couldn’t be prouder.
“We’re put on this Earth to help people, and when it hits your family, with a sickness, if you can help just one family for them to understand it’s not a death sentence.”
Together, they’ve helped more than a thousand men worldwide come to grips with their diagnosis, connecting them with resources and even spending hours on the phone calming their worries.
Also, remember how Bret had to fill out that questionnaire asking if he was pregnant and then later wear a pink gown? Well, he’s since worked with HCA Midwest to be more inclusive.
Now, they have gender neutral gowns and separate questionnaires for men and women. He’s hoping to change that protocol in other clinics too.
“It’s not a women’s disease,” said Bret. “It’s not a men’s disease. It’s a people’s disease.”
Male Breast Cancer Happens is holding a virtual conference next Thursday from 8:30 a.m. until 6 p.m. They’ll have 19 doctors and researchers from all over the world talk about the latest information on breast cancer. You can join on the foundation’s website or go to their YouTube page.