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Research Is the Reason I Can Educate Others About Male Breast Cancer

By BCRF | June 6, 2024

After being diagnosed with breast cancer in his 20s, Barner Jones now dedicates his life to sharing the power of research at 35,000 feet in the air

After losing a significant amount of weight nearly two decades ago, Barner Jones decided to get plastic surgery. He never could have predicted that the procedure was going to save his life.

During surgery, Barner’s doctors noticed something strange. The tissue in his chest was not the right color. It wasn’t until his four-week checkup that Barner’s doctors told him they had found abnormal tissue and sent a sample for testing.

Barner vividly recalls that first conversation with his doctor today. “He said, ‘You have early-stage breast cancer in your right breast. We found it directly behind your nipple when we were operating on you,’” Barner recalled. In the left breast, Barner also had atypical ductal hyperplasia, a benign condition that can increase a person’s risk of breast cancer.

At first, he thought that the doctors had made a mistake.

“I said, ‘Doc, I think something got screwed up in the paperwork. I’m sure you did a breast augmentation for some lady the same day,’” Barner remembered. “My doctor said, ‘Barner, your surgery was 14 hours long. I didn’t operate on anybody that day other than you.’”

For Barner, this moment was a “stopping point”—when the reality of his situation really sank in for the first time. Barner said he was very pragmatic throughout his diagnosis and treatment.

“I worked through the situation, and then I put no emotional attachment into it,” he said. “It took me a long time to actually be able to come forward and really talk about it.”

As a next step, doctors recommended Barner start hormone therapy and undergo six months of monitoring. But at only 26 years old, Barner had reservations about hormone therapy because of its potential side effects, which were only widely studied in women.

Barner advocated instead for a second surgery, and in the spring of that year, he went in for a bilateral mastectomy.

Barner described this time in his life as particularly difficult—not only because of his cancer diagnosis. After coming out to his family, his parents disowned him, but Barner could still lean on some relatives.

“The hardest part was going through the entire process without a lot of family support,” he said. “My aunt was my biggest cheerleader in my coming out, and she was my biggest cheerleader when it came to my treatment and my surgeries. She supported me during those times.”

A few years later, as Barner was starting to embrace talking about his experience with breast cancer, his aunt passed away from ovarian cancer.

“For me, this was a wakeup call that I had to talk to people,” he said. “I needed to be able to tell my story. I needed to let people know that men are not immune to any cancer.”

At the time, Barner’s job required him to fly around the world, and he got to know all of the Delta Air Lines flight attendants traveling to and from his home in San Diego. Delta, a valued BCRF partner since 2005, has funded $28 million in lifesaving research.  Barner remembered hearing the flight attendants making announcements about donating to BCRF for Breast Cancer Awareness Month and started to pitch in.

“Every day I would fly in October I would say, ‘I’ve got $100, so if we raise $100, I’ll match $100,’” he remembered.

Barner ended up quitting his job to work for Delta full-time in 2021, and today, he is still sharing his story to raise funds for research. During his in-flight announcements in October, Barner talks about BCRF, breast cancer statistics, and the importance of early detection.

“It makes a bit of an impact,” he said. “It’s small, but it’s effective. If I tell my story three times a day to 200 people, that’s 600 people.”

Today, Barner recalls his doctor sharing that if he hadn’t had surgery all those years ago, he probably wouldn’t have lived to see 40. Thanks to research, Barner not only saw his 40th birthday, but married his partner, Jason, and found a second career he loves traveling the world as a flight attendant for Delta using his experience to stress the importance of research.

“So much has changed in research and early detection. If I had been diagnosed now, there would have been a whole different series of events because of the research and information that we have now,” he said. “I believe in BCRF more than any other research organization out there.”