Many people think of breast cancer as a disease that only is detected in women. Yet no one is immune from this disease. In fact, it is estimated that this year alone 2,670 men in the U.S. will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer, not including the many others who will experience a breast cancer recurrence. Sadly, 500 men are expected to die each year from breast cancer.
This Father’s Day, we are reflecting upon the men in our lives who have been impacted by breast cancer, including Lee Giller, who passed away on April 28, 2017. Lee was only 59. Today, we honor Lee by sharing his story, written by his loving wife, Kathy Giller.
Breast cancer came knocking on our door in 2005. It didn’t come looking for me, a woman, the likeliest victim. It came for my husband, Lee Giller. We had known that men could get breast cancer, yet it never occurred to us that the lump Lee felt was anything more than a cyst. At the young age of 48, the love of my life was diagnosed with Stage II breast cancer.
Just after Lee finished treatments for his initial diagnosis, and to help increase awareness about breast cancer in men, we walked 60 miles in our first Susan G. Komen 3-Day®. The connections we made were so powerful that we walked another 60 miles that same year. We continued walking every year after that while listening to people from all backgrounds of life share their stories of survival, courage and sadly, defeat; and we shared ours. Some had not known men could even get breast cancer. So, we began to find our voice and purpose, and Susan G. Komen listened.
Lee allowed himself to become a face of male breast cancer – most often in places inundated with women. He never felt shame or embarrassment at what so many still think of as a woman’s disease. The way he faced his illness was inspirational – never a complaint or self-pity. Lee was brave, kind, generous, and he was taken much too soon. On April 28, 2017, my husband and best friend passed away from breast cancer at age 59. Lee fought valiantly for nearly 12 years, four of them with metastatic disease.
Breast cancer has influenced every corner of our lives. We believe that Lee’s cancer saved our daughter, who learned through genetic testing that she inherited his BRCA gene mutation. At just 28 years of age, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, but thankfully due to knowing her risk, it was caught early. This disease has shown us what a hero is from a man who would grimace at being described as such. It has taught us to truly value every day and not take those we love for granted. Sadly, we have learned how fleeting time can be.
While my days walking in the 3-Day are finished, I am not done fighting. I am fortunate to have joined forces with Susan G. Komen by creating the Lee Giller Male Breast Cancer Fund. This Fund will honor Lee and the work that we started to educate women AND men about their risk of breast cancer. Komen has supported us throughout this journey and continues to embrace us. I am so lucky to be part of this organization which is dedicated to finding the cures and fighting breast cancer on all fronts. When those elusive cures are finally found, I truly believe it will be Susan G. Komen that will be at the forefront. I only hope I am lucky enough to see that day.
Please never forget my Lee. Tell the women and MEN in your lives how he lived and died. And please keep giving. We need the cures.