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Male Breast Cancer Survivor Speaks Out

Article date: June 14, 2007

Thurston Murray Image

If I can help one man by telling my story, I'm willing to do that," says Murray. "Men need to know they can get breast cancer.

 

How Thurston Murray Overcame Stereotypes—and His Disease

Thurston Murray thinks we ought to wear blue ribbons as well as pink come October.

Although breast cancer is 100 times more common in women, it's possible for men to develop the disease. The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2007 some 2,030 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed among men in the United States.

And Murray, an outspoken man from South Carolina and long-term breast cancer survivor, is doing everything he can to spread the word.

Persistence Pays

Twenty four years ago, Murray, an avid jogger and exercise fanatic, was running in his Orangeburg, South Carolina, neighborhood 4, sometimes 5, times a week. After a particularly long run, Murray noticed a clear discharge coming from his left nipple. Six weeks later, he found a lump on his left breast. He promptly went to see his family physician, who didn't think men could get breast cancer and told him not to worry.

But Murray, now 62, decided to get a second opinion. He drove 35 miles to Columbia, South Carolina, and met the doctor he credits with saving his life.

Murray was diagnosed with early stage II breast cancer; 3 days after the initial consult, he underwent a modified radical mastectomy, followed by 23 radiation treatments. Two decades later, he's cancer-free and as active as ever, especially when it comes to raising awareness about men and breast cancer.

A Man With a Message

When Murray was diagnosed in the 1980s, he was frustrated by the general ignorance and lack of information for men with breast cancer.

"These days you can go on the Internet and find support groups, but back then you were mostly on your own," he says.

Where some men might be embarrassed about discussing their health, let alone their breasts, Murray has been anything but shy.

"If I can help one man by telling my story, I'm willing to do that," says Murray. "Men need to know they can get breast cancer."

To get the word out, Murray is using every medium he can. He has written letters to local papers and major publications, posted on online message boards, and spoken at his church and at community events.

"Knowledge is power," he says. "It can save lives."

Murray has also been a long-time participant in Relay For Life.

"I'm out there just about every year," he says of Orangeburg's event.

Coping With Loss

Murray opted not to have reconstruction, but did have a type of mastectomy on his right side several years after his initial surgery.

His doctor had noticed some changes in the breast tissue on that side and was worried he might have cancer in his right breast, too. Fortunately, they didn't find any abnormal cells, but Murray decided to have the surgery anyway, in part, he says, "to even up."

"If you lose a body part, be it a hand or a toe or whatever, you're going to be self-conscious about it."

Murray says he felt more like himself after the second surgery, but he mostly credits his family and friends for helping him through the experience.

"My wife has been my biggest supporter," Murray says. And he also found strength in his church. "After my surgery, I must have received something like 70 get well cards from the congregation."

Like Father, Like Daughter

Murray and his wife, Harris, both work at Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College, and they've raised one daughter, 21-year-old Laura.

"Had I listened to my family physician, we wouldn't have Laura," he says.

And it seems Laura has inherited her dad's passion for health education. She plans to enter the profession, perhaps as a pediatric oncologist.