Farmington Hills resident Dick Jaeger was about a year past treatment for bladder cancer in 1998, when he experienced another troubling symptom.
"I had gone to my oncologist for a normal check up ... and he asked me, 'Is there anything else you want to talk about?'," Jaeger recalled. "I told him I had pain here, and put my hand on the left side of my chest."
Because of Jaeger's health history, his physician recommended a biopsy. And with that, Jaeger became one of the approximately 2,140 men diagnosed each year with breast cancer. The incidence of the disease in men is about 100 times lower than in women; for men, the lifetime risk of getting breast cancer is about 1 in 1,000, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS).
Jaeger's doctor gave him three choices: leave it alone and see what happens, try radiation therapy or a mastectomy. He chose the latter, he said, "since I wasn't planning on lactating." The surgery was done on an outpatient basis.
"Two days later, I was fine," he said. "It was a very early stage."
Having just celebrated his 70th birthday, Jaeger says his health is "extremely good." Breast cancer in men, he said, occurs so rarely that doctors may not look for it, and men are less likely to pay attention to symptoms.
The ACS notes that while men have less breast tissue, so lumps can be more easily detected, those lumps don't have to go very far to affect the nipple, skin and muscle in the breast – so the cancer may spread faster. Mammograms and genetic testing are recommended for those at high risk.
"The answer is know your body, and don't take anything for granted," Jaeger said.
Since his successful treatment, he has volunteered with the ACS Cancer Action Network (CAN), a cancer advocacy group, and to talk with members of the Michigan Congressional delegation about ensuring funds for the National Institutes for Health and the Center for Disease Control, both of which play a large part in cancer research.
With his wife, Caryn, Jaeger is also active in Relay for Life events throughout the area and last weekend, he stood in a tent in the wind and rain at the Making Strides for Breast Cancer walk in Detroit. He wears two hats for the ACS CAN: Michigan Senate chair and 9th Congressional District chair.
And he does it all out of a passion for winning what he calls the "war on cancer".
"We're in a war on cancer. It takes more American lives each year than any war we've ever been in, except for the Civil War," he said, adding that as with any war, this one needs to be funded. "I'd like to see the day that I can say to the (ACS) staff, 'You're fired. We don't need you any more.'."