Pat Barbato of Somers says he repeats his story often these days, especially during October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
He talks about how he found a tiny lump in his own breast during a shower two years ago and relates what happened afterward, always emphasizing the importance of awareness among those of his gender.
“Check yourself. You never know!”
Barbato, in fact, was just going about his daily routine as a retiree, enjoying time with his wife, Juliann, his daughter, Susan, and his granddaughter, Ella Grace—“my little sweetheart”—when he came across a lump “no bigger than my pinkie nail” while soaping up with a washcloth. He immediately called to his wife to confirm his suspicion and the next morning, found himself in his doctor’s office.
“It was very frightening,” he said of the discovery.
Although his doctor told him he didn’t think it was serious, certainly not serious enough to delay a trip he had planned for the near future, the doctor did advise him to get a mammogram and a sonogram.
“I would not be alarmed,” Barbato recalled his doctor said at the time.
So off he went on his trip, and upon his return, he began calling local radiologists to schedule the scans.
“They couldn’t take me for almost four weeks,” he said. When completed, the scans confirmed his fears: Barbato needed to see a surgeon.
Dr. Beth Freedman, a specialist at CareMount Medical of Mount Kisco, performed a biopsy, which determined that Barbato had stage 2 breast cancer. At this stage, tumors measure between 2 cm and 5 cm and the cancer cells have spread beyond the original location and into the surrounding breast tissue. According to the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, those with breast cancer at this stage are considered to have a good prognosis.
Treatment, however, was not so straightforward at first. Barbato, then 78, had had a quadruple bypass in 2006 and his cardiologist advised him against having a lumpectomy because it would require eight weeks of radiation. Instead, the course of treatment called for a full mastectomy.
Barbato underwent the surgery on Oct. 30, 2017, and, Dr. Freedman said, “He recovered beautifully.” He has been prescribed Tamoxifen to reduce the risk of recurrence, which Dr. Freedman said is always possible, although “the chances are extremely low.”
Breast cancer in men is equally rare, with a lifetime risk of one in 833. According to the American Cancer Society, about 2,670 new cases of invasive male cancer will be diagnosed this year alone, and 500 men will die from the disease. Just last week, Newsweek reported that a study conducted by Vanderbuilt University had found that men who are diagnosed with breast cancer are more likely to die of the disease than their female counterparts across all stages.
Which makes stories like Barbato’s and others being shared by the likes of Mathew Knowles, the father of pop singers Beyonce and Solange Knowles, all the more important. In recent published interviews, Knowles said he sought health care after seeing recurring spots of blood on his shirts and sheets, which is a symptom of the disease. The 67-year-old revealed only this month that he underwent surgery in July.
Nor is Knowles the only male celebrity to be diagnosed with breast cancer. So was Ernie Green, a fullback for the Cleveland Browns; Peter Criss, the drummer for KISS, who survived to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2014; and Paul Dromboski, an ‘80s football standout who played for the Kansas City Chiefs, New England Patriots and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
At the very least, Dr. Freedman advises, all men should conduct breast self-exams.
“We highlight women’s cancer, but in reality, men are affected by breast cancer, too,” she said of the American Cancer Society’s annual monthlong awareness campaigns.
The Bronx-born Barbato, the onetime owner of four area temporary employment agencies, lives that reality and beats the drum for awareness, too. Although his mother, his sister and a niece have battled the disease, testing showed that he, in fact, doesn’t “carry the gene.”
Still, he said, “Cancer doesn’t know who’s a man.”
Men should check themselves annually, he said, and should they find a lump, “run to the doctor immediately.”