by Cathryn Creno – Oct. 17, 2010 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic
Mike Muller used to laugh at the lump on the right side of his chest.
“Wanna see something weird?” he would ask friends, then lift his shirt to show them the hard bump.
In a million years, Muller never would have guessed that he had breast cancer.
An Ahwatukee tax preparer retired from the Army, Muller walked around with the slowly growing tumor for 10 years before showing it to his family physician, Patricia Dietzgen. It was 2008, and, by then, it was the size of a walnut.
“I expected her to laugh,” Muller said. “Instead she got really quiet. It’s never good when your doctor gets really quiet.”
Muller was one of about 2,000 American men diagnosed with breast cancer that year. The American Cancer Society estimates that 450 die of the disease annually.
Within three weeks, Muller was scheduled for surgery to remove a ductal breast tumor and some of his lymph nodes.
“I cried a little bit,” he admitted.
Then he underwent six rounds of chemotherapy and 34 rounds of radiation and began a five-year course of Tamoxifen – treatment similar to that of a woman diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer.
“They said there was so little known about male breast cancer that they were going to treat it aggressively,” Muller said.
More than two years later, Muller has an excellent prognosis, said his oncologist, Jack Cavalcant of Mesa. Nearly as important, Muller is in excellent spirits, Cavalcant said, noting that being diagnosed with breast cancer can be an emotional blow to men.
“They associate it with a woman’s disease,” said Cavalcant, who explained that many male patients feel alienated by the pink decor of mammography centers and the feminine tone of the literature they receive. “Emotionally, it’s terrible. It’s disorienting to them.”
Muller’s wife, Patricia, recalls her husband wondering why his disease couldn’t be called “chest cancer” instead of breast cancer.
Muller said he supports the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, held last weekend in Phoenix, but even now he would not feel comfortable running in it. But he has found a way to make men aware of the disease.
Later this month, he will be featured on a 2011 calendar of men who served as Marines at Camp Lejeune, N.C., and who have been diagnosed with breast cancer. Before joining the Army, Muller served in the Marine Corps from 1971 through 1973 and was at Lejeune for about a year.
The fundraising calendar is being published by Boston-based Art BeCAUSE, a cancer-prevention foundation. It can be purchased for $20 at www.artbecause.org.
Muller said he was unaware of Camp Lejeune’s cancer connection until September 2009, when CNN broke a story about men based at the camp from the late 1950s through the 1980s who had developed breast cancer.
In September, a U.S. House subcommittee took testimony on potentially cancer-causing chemicals, including trichloroethylene and benzene, which were in the water supply at Camp Lejeune before the base shut several wells in 1985.
About 20 Camp Lejeune Marines were diagnosed at the time of the CNN story. Now there are 64, enough to have put together a website, www.tftptf.com, which stands for “The Few, the Proud, the Forgotten,” Muller said.
“When I was at Camp Lejeune, I lived on the base, all the water I drank and showered in came from the base,” Muller said. “It was explained to me that one of the wells was close to a junkyard that contained cancer-causing solvents. It also was near a place where a dry cleaner dumped its solvents.”
He said he wishes he had been told about the wells, and male-breast-cancer symptoms, earlier.
“Had I read this story four years ago, I would have gotten the lump checked out,” Muller said.
“We need to get the word out to men that when something like that presents itself, you take it seriously.”