When Thurston Murray was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1983, there was nothing more than a small medical journal entry available on the subject, a study conducted on 12 men in Southern Africa who had breast cancer.
There was very little information, because at the time, there weren’t enough cases — approximately 0.5 percent or less of all breast cancer cases involved men. It was also something most men didn't want to talk about.
Today, it still affects less than 1 percent of men, or 2,030 per year, but when it strikes, male breast cancer can be just as life-threatening and altering as its female version.
Murray first found something wrong with his chest after moving with his wife to St. Matthews, S.C. One day, after returning from a jog, Murray crossed his arms over his chest and noticed leakage on his left side.
At first, he thought nothing of it. A week went by, and there was still leakage, so Murray visited a family physician, who told him, "Maybe it's a cyst, because men don't get breast cancer."
But Murray knew it was something else. He went back to that small medical journal, the study out of South Africa, but found nothing else on cases of male breast cancer.
"There was no Internet, and no men were speaking of it at the time," he said. "I guess men were afraid of losing their masculinity. But men could get breast cancer. It was just very rare," said Murray.
He waited one more week, and a hard lump had formed. He went to a local radiologist who had experience working with women with breast cancer. She gave him a mammography-type thermography test, where a heat plate was placed over his chest and would show the "hot" or potentially cancerous areas.
"When the mammogram shot up on screen," Murray said, "I said, 'Doctor, you don't have to tell me anything,' and she said, 'Do you have a surgeon in mind?'"
He brought the mammography X-ray to a pathologist, who examined it and told Murray that it was in fact breast cancer, although he didn't see this often. Murray needed a mastectomy.
"I said, 'Once you put me out, send the specimen to the pathology department, let them diagnose it. When I wake up, I want this it all to be over,'" he said. "Then, he put me out.
"When I woke up, there were two ways to look at this. You have to look at the fact that you may be the one who makes it. You have to believe and have a positive attitude and go forward. A positive attitude affects endorphins and helps you get through," he continued.
Murray had a modified radical mastectomy, which removed four nodes on the left side of his chest. He also found out that he had stage II infiltrating ductal carcinoma. The removed tumor had microscopic cancer cells within it.
Life After Breast Cancer
Murray speaks about breast cancer as much as he can to help educate other men about the disease. He's featured on the American Cancer Society Web site and has spoken to the Susan B. Komen Foundation about the speedy releases following a mastectomy.
He recently spoke to a group of students about male breast cancer and was surprised to see a bunch of guys wearing pink shirts in support of the cause.
"Times have changed," he said "When I had it, no one was speaking out about it or talking about it. There was no site around devoted to male breast cancer. The Internet has broadened people's knowledge."
In his talks with other men who have breast cancer, he asks them, "If you had a lump on your hand or finger that was hard, what would you do? Leave it there? Well, you don't leave it anywhere."
Just eight weeks ago, Murray underwent another procedure stemming from his bout with breast cancer. He had heart surgery, but says he's in perfect health. "My numbers were perfect, my weight, blood pressure," he said.
The problem — there was one weakened artery from the radiation therapy that he had so many years before. He said it might have been worse if he had a drive-thru mastectomy, like the ones often done today. In those cases, patients go in for treatment and are let out of the hospital just days later.
"It's really a tragedy," he said. "It took me eight weeks to recover and get psychologically ready to get back to real world. They don't keep you in the hospital long enough. Today, they kick you out in three days."
Murray, an area director and trainer at the South Carolina Technical College in Columbia, S.C., for the past 33 years, is now almost 25 years free of breast cancer, and said there's still much more to be done to spread the word about this disease in men.
"I don't think there's enough known about male breast cancer," he said. "The reason there are too many men who remain silent is that there are too many men who don't speak out. It's not that they don't care about their fellow man, but I think that they are embarrassed and think it is only a female disease. Me, I'm not embarrassed at all. It's nothing to be ashamed of."