Soon after Arnaldo Silva discovered the suspicious lump on his chest was breast cancer, he also learned he was a BRCA2 mutation carrier. He was devastated and shocked but hopeful it could help his two children understand their cancer risk. It did more than that. Weeks after his own mastectomy, Silva’s 32-year-old daughter Vanessa tested positive for the genetic mutation and learned she also had breast cancer.
“It was hard. I already lost a sister to breast cancer. Now I’m thinking am I going to lose my daughter?” Silva remembers.
Connected by their shared experience, they formed a close bond. They spoke regularly on the phone, commiserated over shared side effects and on several occasions sat next to each other during their chemotherapy treatments.
“We became more than father and daughter we became close friends,” Silva says. “We were physically and mentally together.”
He remembers how his intuition kicked in whenever he felt Vanessa was having a hard time.
“Sometimes I could sense she was having an off day, so I would send her an inspirational message or flowers to pick her up,” he said.
That connection has remained since their initial diagnoses a decade ago. Sadly, since then, both experienced reoccurrences. Today Silva is a two-time male breast cancer survivor. Vanessa recently completed treatment after her second reoccurrence.
“As a father it’s been really rough,” Silva says.
While Silva is looking forward to Father’s Day, he says cancer has given him a new perspective on life. He now makes it a priority to spend time with family after being a New York City firefighter for 33 years. He’s especially grateful for the memories he shares with his children and three grandchildren.
“Every time I see them, that’s my Father’s Day,” he says.
Equally important is Silva’s strident belief in the power of breast cancer awareness and research. As a male breast cancer advocate he regularly speaks with young men about recognizing signs and symptoms of the disease to prevent advanced diagnoses – a common occurrence in male breast cancer cases.
“What I do now is educate other men and speak to young men. It’s not always a lump. I thought mine was an ingrown hair,” he says.
As a BRCA2 mutation carrier, Silva also recognizes the importance of scientific discoveries in helping more families prevent and get past their inherent cancer risk.
“Research is important. I don’t want any other family to go through what ours went through.”