More than half a million women around the world die each year from breast cancer. But while it has received attention as one of the major killers of women, the disease also hits men. Erika Celeste reports from Mississippi, which has one of the highest rates of breast cancer in the U.S.
Entertainer and radio host Paul Ott is known across the country as an outdoorsman and conservationist. Though his wife died of cancer 25 years ago and his daughter was diagnosed with breast cancer just two years ago, the thought never crossed his mind that he might develop cancer, especially not breast cancer.
"I get a yearly check up," he says, "and have for 30 years, but my general practitioner has never checked my breasts. It took him all of two seconds to find that nodule and suggest that I have it taken out."
Ott found the lump by accident one day during a live radio broadcast with his daughter. "She just happened to brush across me to hand me a pencil or tablet and hit my breast and it hurt," he recalls. "She made a little statement. We have a lot of fun on the show and she joked and said 'Now Dad, you don't have breast cancer, for goodness sake'."
But that was exactly what Ott did have. While pain is not usually a symptom of breast cancer, the fact that Ott was sore from playing tennis in combination with the inflamed nodule made him think something wasn't right.
"Breast cancer is a disease that knows no boundaries," according to Dr. Cheryl Perkins. The senior clinical advisor at the Susan G. Komen For the Cure Foundation says it's a common misconception that men can't get breast cancer. It's rare - only about 1 percent of men will be diagnosed with breast cancer - but Perkins says it's important to get the word out, "because it does happen in men and oftentimes men do not appreciate the fact that it's not just a women's disease."
More importantly, she notes, because most men are unaware of their risk, their cancer is often not found until it's too late to treat, or in a more advanced stage, making treatment more difficult. Just as with women, early detection is the key to longevity.
Paul Ott was able to use the same oncologist as his daughter. With his family by his side, he went in for a full mastectomy of his left breast. Then, he says, the wait began. "Let me tell you something that's really hard," he admits, "it's to wait from the Thursday of a biopsy surgery to the next Tuesday to see if you're going to die of cancer. That is a very trying wait."
To Ott's great relief, the results were favorable. And because his cancer was in an early stage, no other treatment was necessary. "I've seen some very strong miracles and I'm one of them as far as I'm concerned," he says.
His close call made Ott realize that if he didn't know men could get breast cancer, even with all the exposure to the disease in his own family, then a lot of men probably weren't aware of the risks either. So he used his celebrity status to inform them, not only doing public service announcements but giving lectures in schools and appearing on nationwide television shows.
He says the perception of breast cancer as a woman's disease prompted a common question. "When I did a lot of the national shows, the hosts would ask me, 'Did you feel non-masculine about it?' When I realized the breast is part of the body, I really had no particular feeling about it not being masculine. It's either death or get it done!"
Ott has also teamed up with the Susan G. Komen Foundation to help get the word out at special events, and talking to his old friends and fans in sportsmen's and environmental organizations. "The response has been unbelievable with phone calls and emails, people that have either had it or knew their father died of it, but they weren't sure, or brothers, or men who have called and said 'I have a nodule I don't know what to.'"
Paul Ott has now been cancer-free for about five months. His daughter is also cancer-free.
Dr. Cheryl Perkins says if there's one thing those who hear Ott's story should remember, it's that they should not think that they can't get breast cancer. "They can," she stresses. "They shouldn't think it won't happen to them. It might. And shouldn't believe there's nothing they can do. There's a lot they can do and part of that is just being aware of what's normal for you and seeking medical attention as soon as possible if something changes. It might not be anything, but it's good to find out."
Paul Ott agrees. "Save one life with it and it's worth it all."