Michael Caruso was on the phone with his daughter, who was away at college, when he felt a slight tug under his right nipple.
“Hey, check this out,” he said to his wife, Xiomara. “This doesn’t feel right.”
When he was 21, Michael had a benign tumor on his breast removed. He was ready to treat this incident the same way — if it wasn’t for his wife.
“I would have probably been in some serious trouble if I didn’t follow her direction,” Michael admits.
After seeing his primary care physician who ordered a mammogram, ultrasound and a biopsy, Michael learned his tumor was stage II breast cancer. He was 49 years old.
“Being retired military, I’m used to following orders from someone in position of authority. That’s what I did on that call. I just said to the doctor, ‘Okay, what’s our next step?’” Michael said.
Within a month Michael underwent surgery to remove the tumor. He also received genetic testing, which revealed he carries the BRCA2 genetic mutation, which increases a person’s lifetime risk of developing breast cancer. It’s a trait he knows well. At least three generations on his mother’s side also carry the BRCA2 genetic mutation.
“My sister tested negative so I assumed that I would be negative too – because, I’m a guy and I didn’t think a man could get breast cancer,” Michael says.
His genetic predisposition shed light on his treatment plan. In addition to surgery, he underwent chemotherapy, radiation treatments and endocrine therapy.
His daughter also underwent genetic testing which revealed she is not a carrier of the BRCA genetic mutations.
“Thank God, it ended with me,” Michael says.
Towards the end of Michael’s active treatment, while he was preparing to celebrate his fiftieth birthday, his family dealt with another blow. Xiomara was diagnosed with a rare but treatable breast cancer known as mucinous carcinoma.
“I felt like my world was crumbling, ‘Why me? Why now? He’s just finishing treatment,’” Xiomara recalls. “We just wanted to go on with life.”
After the initial shock wore off, the couple felt ready to tackle this new challenge head on.
“We were prepared as any two people could be to battle this dreaded disease,” Michael said.
After undergoing a double mastectomy earlier this year, Xiomara continues to recover. While the physical and emotional scars remain, the couple has grown stronger thanks to their shared experience.
“We have a common bond,” Xiomara says referring to their diagnosis.
The Carusos have also embraced their new roles as male breast cancer awareness advocates.
“We’re invested in sharing our story at any opportunity. The more people are aware, the more likely they are to be proactive and take care of themselves,” Michael said.
As Michael and Xiomara continue to heal, they agree they have much to look forward to.
“We are happy we’re embarking on this journey. Thanks to research, we’ll have many more years together,” Michael says.
Read more personal stories about breast cancer from BCRF’s Research Is The Reason campaign here.
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