Stories of Hope
Male Breast Cancer Survivor Is Former Caregiver
Article date: September 27, 2012
"You immediately think women. But as I've learned, even though breast cancer in men is not common, it is possible."
Kevin Baldwin knows a breast lump when he feels it. His wife, Arlene, passed away from breast cancer nearly 14 years ago on the eve of their youngest child’s first birthday. So when Baldwin slid a bar of soap across his left breast in the shower and felt something the size of a ping-pong ball, there was no second-guessing. “Unlike most men, I immediately thought breast cancer. I thought, ‘Here we go, let’s get to the doctor,’” says Baldwin, 50, of Lamar, Missouri.
The diagnosis arrived within days: stage 3 breast cancer. Chemotherapy followed a radical mastectomy that removed the tumor along with his entire breast, underarm lymph nodes and pectoral muscles under the breast. Baldwin, a school superintendent in Golden City, is now taking the anti-estrogen drug tamoxifen for 5 years to reduce the risk of his cancer coming back.
Yet Baldwin wasn’t thinking about his own health when his doctor uttered the word malignant in early 2012. His mind instead immediately veered to his 14-year-old daughter, Madie. Since both her parents now had had breast cancer, what chance did his only girl possibly have of a ducking a similar fate?
“You immediately think women. But as I’ve learned, even though breast cancer in men is not common, it is possible. So I’ve also talked about it to my two sons,” says Baldwin, whose only family history of breast cancer includes an aunt.
Baldwin’s sons are both in their 20s. His conversations with them aimed to strip away any embarrassment or stigma surrounding breast cancer in men, a message Baldwin also relays to other men he meets in the community. “We don’t get to choose where cancer shows up in our body. We need to find it as early as possible and fight it as best we can,” Baldwin says.
His awareness efforts also take a second angle: Even though you may never get breast cancer, your wife, mother, sister or daughter might—and knowing what to say and do for them counts. Baldwin says it wasn’t until his own diagnosis that he realized how he could have been a better caregiver for his wife. “Today, I know there are things she went through mentally, things like body image and fears about mortality, that I had no idea she was going through until I experienced breast cancer myself. And I’m going to make sure men understand it.”
Soon after his diagnosis, Baldwin says he went through a phase in which he often wondered, “If I die tomorrow, do I have everything in order?” It’s a conversation most cancer patients have with themselves at some point. Yet Baldwin says he didn’t dwell on those thoughts long. “You think, ‘This is stupid. Why am I doing this?’ Then the fight is on. You try to be as positive as you can and move forward with your life.”
Sometimes that means moving forward quite literally. Every year, Baldwin participates in the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life. More than 3.5 million cancer survivors and supporters nationwide band together each year for Relays in which “teammates” take turns walking or running around a track or path overnight to raise cancer awareness and research funds. Baldwin hasn’t missed a Relay since his wife’s death in 1999, but his latest one in July took on new significance and emotion.
“For the first time, I actually walked as a survivor instead of as a supporter,” Baldwin says. “That was quite an experience.”