Allen Wilson doesn’t mind being a poster child for a pink cause.
“Exploit me,” he said.
Wilson was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2003 when he was 51. Now he’s using his experience to save other grandfathers, fathers, sons, brothers and uncles.
Wilson, of Houston, noticed a lump under his nipple, but he ignored it until the day he collided with one of his sons while playing basketball. He did some research and decided he needed to see his doctor.
“Two days later, I had a mammogram. It’s amazing what those technicians can do with so little tissue to work with,” he said.
Wilson had a mastectomy and chemotherapy. His hair was falling out, so his two sons helped give him a Mohawk and paint half red and half green for a family Christmas card.
Since then, Wilson, who is the 2011 chairman for the Houston Komen Race for the Cure®, has personally raised more than $68,000 for the foundation. A runner, a skydiver and a mountain climber, Wilson loves to leave pink ribbons on mountain summits – like Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Everest.
“I have had two surgeries, two chemos and one radiation, and I am surviving just fine,” he said. Some of his treatments were rough, and the side effects weren’t fun. “But we got through it.”
Richard Roundtree, an actor best known as John Shaft in “Shaft,” was 51 when he was diagnosed with breast cancer after feeling a lump while in the shower in 1993.
Roundtree initially thought the doctor was questioning his manhood, but he has grown to be comfortable as a spokesman for the cause. A woman on an airplane once thanked him for saving her husband’s life by inspiring him to get checked out by a doctor.
Nancy Uzo, vice president for public affairs at Mather Hospital in Port Jefferson, said while men don’t make up for much of the people diagnosed with breast cancer at the hospital’s Fortunato Breast Health Center, men diagnosed have attended and spoke at the center’s support group “Look Good Feel Better,” sponsored by American Cancer Society.
Some argue the survival rate for men is not as good as it is for women because men tend to ignore symptoms for longer, but the American Cancer Society reports recent studies have shown some improvement. Men and women who are diagnosed at the same stages have similar outlooks.
This year, the ACS estimates 2,140 new cases of invasive breast cancer in men in this country. They estimate 450 men will die.
One in 1,000 men, compared to one in eight women, will face breast cancer at some point. The average age of diagnosis is 68. One of five of those diagnosed will have a close relative with the disease.
Uzo said the Fortunato Breast Health Center at the hospital does roughly 14,000 screenings a year, including mammograms and ultrasounds, with approximately two percent of those screened being diagnosed with breast cancer.
Of the people diagnosed at the center, Uzo said men make up less than one percent.
There is no known cause, but genetics, obesity and excessive alcohol consumption may contribute.
Men and women have similar treatments including surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation and targeted therapies.