When Michael Singer learned he had breast cancer, he was certain the doctor made a mistake. Just two years earlier he watched his sister die from the disease, one that he assumed only affected women.
“I was shocked. I was embarrassed because as far as I knew breast cancer was a woman's disease,” Singer said.
Soon Singer learned the small lump under his left nipple – a growth he had been ignoring for months – was stage 2 ductal carcinoma in situ. Days after receiving results of his biopsy, he returned for a mastectomy of his left breast. That was in 2010. He was 50 years old.
The fact that Singer was one of 2,000 men to be diagnosed with breast cancer that year, hit him hard. He was embarrassed to talk about his diagnosis – and couldn’t find any men who were in similar situations. While he spoke openly with his wife Patty, his friends and family remained in the dark about his diagnosis.
“I would say I have chest cancer. That was my standing answer for probably over a year to a year and a half. I just couldn't say breast cancer,” he said.
That all changed when he was introduced to Brett Miller, a male breast cancer survivor. Diagnosed at age 24, he later founded the Male Breast Cancer Coalition – a nonprofit patient advocacy organization, aimed at educating the world about male breast cancer.
From there, Singer became part of the male breast cancer community. He shared his story, supported others in their treatments and spread awareness about the rare subtype.
“This is starting a whole new dialogue. So many people are learning that men can get breast cancer and that men have breasts too,” he said.
Today Singer is an outspoken advocate dedicated to reducing the stigma associated with the disease. “This is a disease that affects both men and women. It doesn't discriminate. Talk about it,” he added.
While spreading the word is important, Singer is also a strong believer in breast cancer research.
“The Breast Cancer Research Foundation is putting valuable funds into the hands of some of the best scientists to move forward to the next step of ending breast cancer,” he said. “It's amazing to see how dedicated and passionate some of the doctors and scientists who receive these grants are.”
Several BCRF researchers are dedicated to tackling this subset of the disease. Dr. Fatima Cardoso and Dr. Sharon Giordano along with an international group of investigators launched the world’s largest study of male breast cancer in 2008. This global effort, largely funded by BCRF, is analyzing more than 1,800 cases of male breast cancer to better understand the disease and hopefully create new targeted therapies specific to male breast cancer.
Now Singer sees himself and his experience in a new light.
“For the longest time I was Michael Singer and I was a chest cancer survivor. Now I'm Michael Singer, a breast cancer survivor.”