Breast cancer does not discriminate. It crosses the sexes, affecting men as well as women. Smyrna resident John Unverzagt, an 11-year breast cancer survivor, wears pink almost every day and is never without his pink ribbon breast cancer awareness pen.
"It's a way to open doors," 70-year-old Unverzagt said. "At least once a day on average I get to talk to someone about breast cancer and I don't bring it up. They spot (the pink ribbon)."
Unverzagt, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1999, explained that at that time you didn't hear of men getting breast cancer. Today, the American Cancer Society estimates that in 2010 in the U.S. about 1,970 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed among men and about 390 men will die from breast cancer. Visit www.cancer.org for more information.
"I'd like people to be aware that (breast cancer for men) is a killer," Unverzagt stated. "Most men who get (the disease) don't make it because of early detection and they ought to be aware of it."
According to ACS website, "Some men ignore breast lumps or think they are caused by an infection or some other reason, and they do not get medical treatment until the mass has had a chance to grow. Some men are embarrassed when they find a breast lump and worry someone might question their masculinity. This may also delay diagnosis and reduce a man's chances for successful treatment."
"I'm very committed to publicizing prevention of the disease and especially the fact that men can get it," said the retired captain who flew for Delta for 35 years and Net Jets for eight years.
Unverzagt freely shares his story that at age 59, he felt some discomfort in his chest after flying a trip to Tokyo. He questioned whether it was an allergic reaction to secondhand smoke or if he had a cold. While rubbing his chest he discovered a lump, approximately 1.5 centimeters: "The size of a BB."
"Something told me, 'Don't blow this off,'" Unverzagt said.
With the help of his wife, Kathy, the father of seven children found an experienced surgeon near their former home in Tennessee who diagnosed him. Unverzagt obtained treatment at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, where he received a mastectomy followed by chemotherapy, which he completed the spring of 2000.
"I've been on a crusade since I found out," he said.
"For some reason I'm supposed to be here. I think part of the reason is to spread the word, to get more people aware that men get the disease, and also women," Unverzagt said.
Raising awareness is at the heart of his cause, not just for men but women as well. "It's a manageable disease if it's found early," Unverzagt said.