One of just 400 to 500 men diagnosed each year
Gary Sampson was devastated when he learned he had cancer.
“It was a shocker,” Sampson said. “All I could think was, when the doctor explained it to me … ‘Whoa, slow down. Wait a minute … am I about to die?’”
And there was more. Sampson, of St. Rose now and who grew up in Hahnville, learned he was one of the few to suffer from male breast cancer — something he didn’t know was possible at all until hearing that news.
“It threw me for a loop, really did,” he said. “They started talking about scheduling me for a mammogram and biopsy, something I’d associate with being for women. I didn’t realize men get breast cancer too. It’s rare, but we get it.”
About 400 to 500 men are diagnosed with the cancer each year. The majority of men affected are over 50 years of age. That made the case of Sampson, 41, even rarer.
“It really hit me hard. I was blown away,” he said. “It took a few days to really soak in … it took a lot out of me.”
The good news for Sampson is that his case was discovered relatively quickly, and perhaps as a direct result his prognosis is positive. The tumor found in his chest shrunk after treatment, which has included chemotherapy. He’s still undergoing chemotherapy in medicine form—to lessen the odds the disease returns—and once that is done, he will have to have part of the right side of his chest removed. But, he said, everything is headed in the right direction.
He still has questions, of course, and other hurdles to clear. So far, he’s found no answers as to how his cancer materialized.
Not only is he part of a very rare group of not only men with the illness but ones as young as he is, but there’s also no clear link to a family history on either his mother or father’s side.
“It can come as result of your family tree, your DNA … in this case, it’s not from my mom or dad’s side. So how does this happen? I know I live out here in St. Charles Parish with all of the chemical plants, and I have my whole life. Is that a factor?” he asked. “My diet’s good, and maybe I can make it better and eat better, exercise more, things like that.”
“They say cancer simply has no filter. It takes who it wants and what it wants. So … it’s a tough thing to grasp, for me.” — Gary Sampson
Financially, it’s also a burden. Sampson, a truck driver and contractor, has been sidelined from his job as he’s fought the illness and recovers. He and his family were supported on that income, and a return to work is not likely until February of next year at the earliest. His immune system is compromised by his treatment, so he must heed caution before exposing himself to large groups of people during his day-to-day routine.
He’s been told upon applying that he is not eligible for unemployment, complicating it further. He’s applied for a hospital grant, as well as assistance from Catholic Charities. His sister, Jessica, posted a GoFundMe (titled Gary’s Surgery) to help him make ends meet, and donors have raised almost $1,400 to help him move forward and offset costs.
He’s grateful for the help. He’s also grateful for his wife, who gave him the push he needed to get checked out medically. Sampson began feeling pain around his right nipple and for a while chalked it up to a small infection or typical aches and pains. He said it developed like a knot on his chest, and as time went on the area around the nipple hardened.
“One day, she told me I had to get that checked out,” he said. “A lot of men are in worse shape when they’re diagnosed because they ignore the warning signs. I’m glad I listened to her.”
Male Breast Cancer
- Less than 1 percent of all breast cancer develops in males.
- Breast cancer in men is usually detected as a hard lump underneath the nipple.
- Men carry a higher breast cancer mortality rate than women do, primarily because awareness among men is less and they are less likely to assume a lump is breast cancer, which can cause a delay in seeking treatment.