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His Lifeline Through Breast Cancer

A routine physical to make sure that Boy Scout leader Garry Andrews was ready for summer camp changed his life.

That short doctor’s appointment led to a diagnosis that was far from routine. The 48-year-old man learned he had breast cancer, a disease that strikes only about 2,000 men a year.

“I knew it was possible for men to get breast cancer, but I never really thought about it,” says Garry, who serves as Scoutmaster for a troop of boys in Tea, SD. “I’ve learned that if you have any question about something you get it checked out.”

While men are less likely to get breast cancer – less than one percent of all breast cancers occur in men, they often don’t notice it as soon as women. The earlier a diagnosis can be made, the easier and more effective treatment will be.

The path to diagnosis

When Garry looks back at what led to finding out he had cancer, he feels incredibly fortunate that his tumor was spotted at an early stage.

“Everything fell in place for us to find this,” he says. “It really is quite amazing when you look at all the circumstances.”

Garry had noticed a small lump on his chest, but thought it was simply an area with hard fatty tissue, like a spot he had checked out on his arm a few years earlier. It wasn’t something that he would have been likely to mention to his normal doctor.

However, as the new leader of his 14-year-old son’s Boy Scout troop, he made plans to attend a full week of camp and found out he needed to get a physical. In order to get the physical in before the camp’s deadline, he saw a different physician than his normal doctor who suggested checking out the lump with a mammogram, just to be safe.

Sitting in the waiting room at Sanford Breast Health Institute, he felt a little bit out of place, he admits. But the screening tests showed a small tumor and soon he was undergoing a biopsy to check for cancer.

“I’m kind of a go-with-the-flow kind of guy,” Garry says. “I don’t worry about the ‘what-ifs.’ I figured my wife worried enough for both of us.”

Treatment to save

Garry made it to scout camp during the days he was waiting for his diagnosis. Once his tests came back, his doctors recommended a full mastectomy, surgery to entirely remove the breast tissue. Surgeons took out a 2.5-centimeter tumor.

The computer specialist is currently undergoing chemotherapy treatments, but his prognosis is good. Garry says his doctors could tell his breast cancer was a fast-growing variety and they have planned a regime of regular chemotherapy treatments to guarantee that he stays cancer-free in the years to come.

“They’re the experts and they know what they’re doing,” he says. “I figure that I just do what I need to do.”

Breast cancer navigators have helped him throughout his journey and he and his wife have been participating in support groups for survivors. Although a diagnosis of male breast cancer is relatively unusual, everyone at Sanford Health treated him with expertise and care, he says.

His new lifeline

His troop of boys and their families have also been supportive throughout his diagnosis and treatments. Days after his surgery this summer, he celebrated his birthday by joining the boys to check on the progress of an Eagle Scout project to install a new entrance sign at the city park.

Several of his scouts come from families that have been touched by breast cancer too. He makes a point of being up front with the boys about his health or his treatment.

“I never push information on them, but when they ask me something, I take the time to answer their questions,” he says.

In honor of Garry, the scouts have made a subtle change to one of their regular activities. For years, the boys have made “lifeline” bracelets, a wristband made out of 10 feet of braided parachute cord, a useful tool to have in an emergency during hiking or camping.

In the past, the boys made the bracelets out of camouflage colored cord. This year, they’ve made over 100 bracelets to give away in neon pink, the color signifying breast cancer survivorship.

“We decided we’d call them survival bracelets,” says Garry, displaying the braided pink bracelet on his wrist. “We send it out to anyone who could use a lifeline. We’ve done so many, I think we’re going to need to get some more cord.”

Posted Date: November 2012