SALTWELL, W.Va. (WBOY) — Although breast cancer awareness month has come and passed, the importance of getting checked out still remain—and that goes for men, as well.
Air-force veteran, Harrison County resident and car enthusiast Stephen Gardner has been battling breast cancer for the last seven years and wants to get his story out to the public in hopes of saving the life of at least one other man.
After some genetic testing, Gardner learned of a family risk for breast cancer since his maternal grandmother died from the disease and his mother has beaten it three times. Originally, Gardner and his family doctor had assumed the lump on his left breast was just a hematoma from a prior accident.
“It was about six months before I got a referral for the biopsy. If it would’ve been earlier, it probably would have just been removal of the tumor and that was it. But unfortunately, since it was so late in getting the biopsy, it had already spread to my lymph nodes on this side of my body,” said Gardner in an interview with 12 News.
The cancer has since spread to Gardner’s liver and lungs, even causing lesions in his brain. He has undergone 16 different chemotherapy treatments, radiation and the removal of his left breast and lymph nodes.
Stephen and his wife Mendi Gardner are massive Mustang enthusiasts and have traveled to car shows across the country. Mendi said her dream is to have a pink mustang and deck it out with the symbolic pink and blue ribbons because “what better way to get a guy’s attention than a pink mustang.”
Gardner said he is determined to get through to men about getting tested, as he knows firsthand just how hardheaded men can be about seeking help.
“That was me, and now look at me now,” said Gardner. “I wouldn’t say be too hardheaded. It’s not something to be ashamed of either, it’s cancer, it’s just where it comes from and starts. People need to macho about it and just get yourself checked, not even just breast cancer.”
Statistically, breast cancer in men has a deadlier outcome than in women, because it isn’t screened for and is often overlooked. Gardner stated his primary symptoms were a lump and high blood pressure.
“Male breast cancer is never ever thought of when you talk about breast cancer. Every time you see the newscast or any information on it, it’s always about female breast cancer, which is important, I mean, that’s what started it all, but men need to get themselves checked too. So, if they feel any type of lump or anything, go get checked. It doesn’t take much to do it,” said Stephen.
The plan for Stephen from here on out is to continue his chemo treatments and radiation after finding more lesions in his brain on Wednesday.
It could be a bigger deal than you think. Contact your primary doctor about anything that might be off and press for a biopsy if you believe it’s needed.