Breast Cancer Hits Husband, Wife in Two-Year Period

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By Jim Stingl, Journal Sentinel Columnist
This story appeared in the October 28, 2014 issue of The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Darricke Bennett supported his wife, Undraye, throughout her breast cancer treatment.

Then he got the disease himself, and it was Undraye's turn to be at his side.

Only 1 percent of breast cancer patients are male, and it's unusual for it to strike both a wife and her husband, especially so close in time.

"We were both like, what is going on? Is there something going on in this house? It was a shock," Undraye said.

One relative even wondered aloud if Darricke caught breast cancer from his wife. Fortunately, no. Breast cancer is prevalent enough already without it being contagious.

In these final days of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it's important to know that men indeed get breast cancer and their lives may depend on getting timely treatment, which in Darricke's case was a double mastectomy. That's right, men get those, too.

I sat with the Bennetts on Tuesday in the living room of their home on Milwaukee's west side. Married in 1999, they told me they met at MATC while both were students there.

"He was eyeballing me," Undraye laughed.

"No, she was eyeballing me," is the way Darricke remembers it.

He works for Time Warner Cable, she for the post office. They have a son, Marcel, 21.

Neither has a family history of breast cancer.

Undraye, 45, was diagnosed in February 2012 after discovering a lump in her left breast and going to see her doctor. "I knew she knew what it was. I could see it in her face," she said.

Cancer also was detected in one lymph node. After the breast lump was surgically removed, Undraye had chemotherapy injections over the course of five months, and she managed to keep delivering her mail route during that time. Then it was three months of radiation, wrapping up in October 2012.

The couple looked forward to healthier days ahead. But in March of this year, Darricke, 48, noticed pain after weightlifting.

"I started rubbing my chest and felt a lump. It was very small, but it was solid. I didn't think much of it at the time," he said.

Then he made that classically male conclusion: "Maybe it will go away."

He might have stuck with that plan if he had not just been through his wife's cancer experience. The lump in his left breast did not go away over a couple weeks, so he went to his doctor. Until getting the results of a mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy, he didn't want to worry Undraye.

"I was telling no one," he said.

But the news came in a phone call from the clinic. He heard the words breast cancer, and went blank for a moment. This time it was him.

"We got through mine," Undraye assured him, "and we'll get through yours," with prayers and plenty of support from family and their church.

He met with Columbia St. Mary's nurse navigator Deb Theine, whom he had come to know during his wife's care. In her 18 years working with breast cancer patients, she had seen only a few couples with his and her cases.

Darricke wanted the same oncologist at Columbia St. Mary's, Charles Tiber, and surgeon, Anthony Linn, who had treated his wife.

The doctors decided on a mastectomy, or removal of the lump and surrounding breast tissue. "I suggested to have a double done. I just wanted a matching set. Do one, do both," Darricke said.

The surgery was a success. The nipples are gone, and there's a 4-inch horizontal scar on both sides of Darricke's chest.

"I'll be honest with you. It took awhile for me to look in the mirror when I took a shower. I never had any surgeries before in my life," he said.

After getting a concurring second opinion from the Mayo Clinic, Darricke decided not to have chemotherapy.

But he will take a drug called tamoxifen for the next five years. It blocks the estrogen that was stimulating his cancer to grow. Men and women both have estrogen and testosterone at varying levels. Paradoxically, Undraye's cancer was not stimulated by estrogen.

Undraye and Darricke are feeling fine now, but he had this message for guys out there: "If you notice something unusual in your body, get it checked out."

Because it could be breast cancer.

"It's something we share," Undraye said. "I'm sure it does bring us closer."


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