Husband and Wife Breast Cancer Survivors Take Charge of Life

"We jokingly say this is the best thing that ever happened to us. What really matters in life is now crystal, crystal clear."

Meg Campion
photo of Gerard and Meg Campion

Not many husbands and wives can say they’ve both survived breast cancer, and even fewer can say that it has changed their lives for the better, but that is exactly what Gerard and Meg Campion do say. “We jokingly say this is the best thing that ever happened to us,” says Meg. “What really matters in life is now crystal, crystal clear.”

Men can and do get breast cancer

Gerard was age 55 in July 2005 when he noticed skin irritation on one nipple. A runner, he assumed it was due to chafing against his shirt when he sweated, but he had it checked out by a doctor just in case. The doctor too thought it was nothing serious, but sent Gerard to a surgeon, who ordered a biopsy. They were all shocked when the biopsy showed Gerard had male breast cancer.

“Even medical professionals often don’t suspect male breast cancer because it’s not that common,” said Meg. “If we can encourage one person to say that little thing – that bump – needs to get checked, we will have helped. Some men will put off going to the doctor because they can make an excuse, because who would ever think men would get breast cancer? Many men are diagnosed much later than my husband was and their prognosis is not as good.”

Gerard had surgery, chemotherapy, and hormone therapy. During his treatment, he learned that most breast cancer information and support is geared toward women, who are 100 more times as likely as men to get breast cancer.

A pamphlet about hormone therapy warned Gerard of side effects including hot flashes and fatigue, which he did experience, but also vaginal dryness, which he obviously did not. He received a chemotherapy support package that contained a petite pillow and a pink blanket. And Gerard’s surgeon told him to expect little emotional impact after having his breast removed. He was wrong. “It took me a couple of years to take my shirt off at the beach,” says Gerard.

“I know how rare we are. Most of the money should be spent on women dealing with breast cancer,” he says. “Less than 1% of men get male breast cancer, but for me it’s 100%.” He is now working with Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale New-Haven to design support materials for male breast cancer patients.

Cancer revisits the Campions

By 2009, Gerard was doing fine. But Meg, at age 58, was called back for more testing after her routine mammogram. She was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), a pre-cancer which means cells lining the ducts have changed to look like cancer cells, but have not spread into surrounding breast tissue. She had breast-conserving surgery and radiation. “My story is extremely positive because it was caught so early because of regular screening,” said Meg.

Then, in 2011, Gerard started having pain in his hip. He thought he must have pulled a muscle, but the pain kept getting worse, so he went to the doctor. An MRI showed damage to his ribs and spine. The cancer had come back and spread to his bones.

The next few months were rough for the Campions. They didn’t know how well Gerard would respond to treatment and were nervous about how much information to share with family, friends, and clients of Gerard’s financial advising business. When the cancer returned, he had been about to open his own office.

“Now we can look back and say how blessed have we been. Our kids are OK; we have a roof over our heads; we’re employed. We’re doing OK,” said Meg.

Gerard did open his office, and his business was successful. He began a treatment regimen designed to slow the growth of his cancer, and that has been successful too. “The cancer is going to get me, but it’s going to have a hard fight,” said Gerard. “I have never felt better physically or mentally in my life than I do right now.”

Taking charge

“We have taken ownership of this cancer; we’re not going to let it take over our lives,” says Gerard. He and Meg are eating more vegetables now, and getting more exercise. Gerard is conscientious about keeping his medical appointments and following his doctor’s advice. And he’s taking care of his spiritual needs through meditation, yoga, and counseling.

“One of the best gifts Gerry has ever given me is that he took ownership of this disease, so I could continue to be a spouse and not be a mother,” said Meg. “That lets me support him without having to lecture or remind him. He has been living mindfully and positively. We get up every day and say, ‘Thank you, God. What am I going to do today to improve my life and maybe someone else’s?’”

When he turned 62, Gerard played 62 rounds of golf as part of a charity event and raised $13,000 for Closer to Free, an organization that funds cancer research. He is also a motivational speaker for professional, medical, educational, and charitable groups.

“Cancer sucks, but as crazy as it sounds, the second diagnosis is the best thing ever happened to me, said Gerard. “I became a more compassionate person, I feel fantastic, and I’m doing things for other people. Life is wonderful.”

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master’s-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

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