October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and many people likely associate the disease exclusively with women. After all, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, more than 99% of those who get breast cancer are indeed female. Nevertheless, Brownsburg resident Darrell Skaggs has made it his mission to raise awareness of the fact that many men also suffer from this disease, since his own diagnosis almost a decade ago.
In 2010, after waking up with a sharp pain in his side, Skaggs’ doctor diagnosed a gall bladder attack and ordered a CT scan after determining he’d need surgery. The test result showed a mass approximately the size of a half-dollar in his left breast, and a subsequent ultrasound and several biopsies confirmed Stage 2 hormone receptor-positive breast cancer.
“It never occurred to me that it could actually be cancer,” says Skaggs, a Kokomo native and two-year Vietnam war veteran who works in security for Henry Schein, a medical supply distributor. “I have four sisters, none of whom, thankfully, have been diagnosed with breast cancer, and there is no history of the disease in our family, so breast cancer was the farthest thing from my mind. And also, men don’t get breast cancer, right?”
According to the American Cancer Society, about 2,670 men are expected to be diagnosed with breast cancer in the U.S. just this year. Skaggs says that number has been increasing through the years, at around 2,000 back in 2012, and adds that men need to be proactive when lumps or other irregularities are noticed, since men typically aren’t scanned as a matter of course like women.
“There’s a large percentage of those men who die because they ignore the symptoms and they just don’t think about it,” he says. “Since men aren’t scanned for breast cancer a man has to depend on himself to look out for signs – if there’s soreness or a lump, or anything out of the ordinary in the breast area, he should get it checked out.”
Skaggs says the initial embarrassment he felt at being diagnosed with what is largely known as a disease affecting women was a challenge, on top of the cancer battle itself.
“I went for a whole year not really even talking about it due to it being embarrassing at first,” he recalls. “My family was encouraging me to tell my story though, so I decided to put it out there.”
Skaggs was contacted by the Dallas-based Susan G. Komen organization about becoming an official Ambassador, which involved sharing his personal story with others to raise awareness.
In 2012 and 2013, Skaggs was chosen along with 10 other breast cancer survivors to be a Model of Courage for Ford Motor Company’s Warriors in Pink program, for which he traveled to California and Texas to film several commercials and a documentary relating his experience. Along the way, he also began volunteering for the American Cancer Society’s Reach to Recovery program, to offer conversational support for men all across the country suffering from breast cancer.
“I found that a lot of other men like me were embarrassed to talk about it, and I wanted to change that,” Skaggs says. “I found that men don’t have breast cancer support groups like women do. So if a man calls the American Cancer Society and wants a man to talk to about breast cancer, they contact me. I’ve talked to people from California, Illinois, Ohio, Minnesota and Michigan.”
Since 2014, Skaggs has helped to successfully lobby Indiana legislators to proclaim the third week in October Male Breast Cancer Awareness Week, and he says other states have followed suit.
“It’s not to take anything away from women — it’s just to take a week of Breast Cancer Awareness Month to acknowledge male breast cancer,” he says.
In May, Skaggs received the unfortunate news that his breast cancer had returned and developed to Stage 4 — he’s currently undergoing treatment and says he’ll continue to raise awareness however possible.
“Just by talking it out and finding that other people are going through the same things that I’ve gone through, it’s acted as a kind of healing process for both me and those I’ve talked to,” he says. “Things like that help men realize that we’re all in this together.”
Visit komen.org for more info on the Susan G. Komen organization events, programs and fundraising opportunities.
For details on the Ford Warriors in Pink Program, visit warriorsinpink.ford.com.