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Late-Mr. Will Gallagher
Will passed away from breast cancer after he was diagnosed for the second time. He had a wife and two small children. He was born 1969 and passed away 2012. Early detection could of saved his life. R.I.P.
Acknowledgments: I would like to thank the following people for walking this journey with me:Anyone who poked or prodded at me with surgical instruments, needles, thermometers or put their healing hands on me at St Mary’s hospital I have tremendous love in my heart for you. My parents and sisters. Well what can I say? Thank you all for your contributions no matter what they were. We literally could not have made it without any of you.
My beautiful wife, how can I begin to thank you? For being so strong and being the rock that I really needed you to be. There really are no words, you held it down for the boys and you are the reason why I’m still here. Dying on the inside and outside looking fearless that’s you baby thanks for all you do. ***On a beautiful Colorado morning I left for West Star Aviation, I hadn’t slept very well the night before due to a dull pain on my right side. The pain was coming from the lump (cyst as three different doctors had called it before. But I was in good spirits I loved my new job (just started working there two weeks earlier) so I was looking forward to my day. This starts my journey into male breast cancer.As the day drew on the pain in my chest started to worsen by the minute it seemed. It kind of felt like the lump was in a vice and someone was slowly trying to embed it into my rib cage. The pain was so bad it brought tears to my eyes and almost took my breath a couple of times. I made it through the day barely. Right after work I drove home and the pain just worsened. Penny (my wife of ten years) and our two sons Jashon and Quinten walked in from school and my wife could see I was not in good shape.
I told her about my day and we agreed that I should go to the emergency room.At the emergency room I told the staff that I was having chest pains, trouble breathing and in some pretty immense pain. They hooked me up to heart monitors and other machines I can’t think of the names of. My heart was normal. A doctor came into look at me. She told me that more the likely the cyst had just irritated muscle when I was practicing golf in the garage (oh yeah I play a little golf now and then, and when I’m not playing I wish I was). I was relieved I was getting ready to go home. That’s when another doctor came in to look at me. The doctor (sorry folks for the life of me I can’t remember the doctors name who looked at me that night) looked at my nipple and told me that I would have to get it looked at and possibly would need surgery that very same night to get the mass removed (notice its all of a sudden not a cyst anymore).
At the time no surgeon was available so this doctor told me that I was going to need an ultrasound and a mammogram done.The next day I had them done. The doctor who examined these was very concerned how the images looked and said the mass needs to come out ASAP and he meant like right now. I was referred to Dr. Stewart Ackley.At this point in my journey I am becoming very scared. For this to be something past doctors told me not to worry about the lump was sure getting a lot of attention. Meeting Dr. Ackley was a good experience he is a very warm person. He looked at me and was worried about the mass as well. He biopsied the mass (that hurt) it sounded like when you break a tooth on something (he did attempt to numb the area and I couldn’t imagine the pain if he hadn’t). He told me he would call me with the results of the biopsy and discuss my options to get rid of the lump.
The phone call came 3 days later, a phone call that has changed my life forever. I called Dr Ackley’s office first, I just knew that it would be good news I would get rid of the mass and everything would be okay. The staff member told me that Dr Ackley was busy and would return my call, all I could think was, why would he need to return my call he’s going to tell me that everything is okay and I would have the lumpectomy (that’s where they take so called cyst out of body and make you all better) and everything would be back to normal. Nope I was wrong. Dr Ackley called back maybe ten minutes later. “Will, the mass is intrusive” this means I had some bad stuff in that nagging mass. I did not say a word to any coworkers (guess they probably knew it was bad) I walked outside and tried to gain my composure. I tried and tried but the tears just kept on coming.
I walked back in and told my coworkers I would be taking the rest of the day off. Like they really needed to know why.I got into our old blue Buick and headed towards the loving arms of my wife. I kept telling myself to be strong for her. Now out of everything that I’ve been through telling Penny Marie Gallagher would be my toughest task to date. I walked through the pre-school (my wife is a wonderful educator, she works at step by step preschool) and before I could say anything to Penny she could see the look on my face and she knew something was very wrong “It’s cancer boo” we both melted, right there in front of the kids and the staff. This would be our weakest moment. We had a disease to crush and that’s exactly what we would do.Dr Ackley performed a radical mastectomy making a scar that goes from about my sternum all the way to almost my back.
The mass was three and a half centimeters and cancer was found in five of eight lymph nodes. That put me at a stage three cancer. The surgery was a success and I was glad to have the lump gone. I was happy also because my best friend’s mom came in support of my family also (thank you Helen). It took two weeks and I was back at work.Getting back to work was very hard. I was trying hard to come to grips that I had breast cancer. I was happy to be alive but angry due to being misdiagnosed, for some doctors telling me that the mass was only a fibroid cyst and that I had nothing to worry about. I found it very hard to concentrate and my job at West Star required nothing but full and undivided attention. I was still new (had been on the job only a couple of weeks when pain started) and was making a lot of mistakes. West Star terminated me the day before I would start the next phase of breast cancer which would be chemo therapy.
Chemo was the one part of cancer that has been bitter sweet. The medicine one in particular called Adriamycin (red death) was very hard. I hated needles with a passion (notice past tense, it’s kind of like conquering a fear and using object of fear to get over it), the medicines made me tired, as far as sickness I had some really good nausea meds so never once did I vomit. Hair loss, now I did lose my hair but that was not the bad part, see before you lose your hair your scalp gets very sensitive so at night it would feel like I was lying on a porcupine (that sucked). Now I said bitter sweet because I had the greatest staff in the whole world working on me. Dr Melancon was the tough lady out of the group. She reminded me a lot of my section sergeant in the Army very tough but very caring. The transfusion area was usually not what you would expect from a hospital. I had so much fun with all the ladies and gentlemen that worked in there. If not for the laughter and hugs I would not have made it through like I did. They are like another family to me and I will continue my frequent visits (I do it just to get a hug) to the area.Now there is one very special person that I bonded with almost right off the bat. One Mary Vaughn. She is the clinical research nurse and something about her just drew me and my family to her. If I don’t see her at least every other day I go through Mary withdraws. When I needed to vent she was there, when Penny could not make it to a treatment Mary would come and sit with me. She is an Angel.I am still in radiation twenty-four down and nine to go as I type this.
The hardest thing about radiation is going every day. My doctor for this is Dr King. He’s a lot of fun also. I don’t get a chance to talk with the staff on the radiation side because it doesn’t take very long at all. I do get a kick out of joking with Matt, Wendy, Michael and Nicole. Dawn and Debbie the receptionist are awesome as well.That has been my journey to this point I did not mention insurance (we don’t have any), and I tried to be as positive as possible. To the reader I hope you enjoy reading this. I am enclosing some stats on male breast cancer, some of the stuff I did at Rocky Flats Environmental Site, and how this disease has affected me. Thank you and god bless. Rocky Flats: Started May 2000 - Laid Off October 2003. Building 130: Started in Laundry Building 130. Supervisor was Chris Lilly. Received all of Site laundry. Collected laundry in mass and put into containers to be cleaned in Richland Washington.
Did this work from May of 2000 until December of 2000. Notes: Job did not require dosimeter.Building 061: Temporary Assignment. Collected site furniture and other items that would go to auction. Notes: One instance where lead bricks were in a box. Box was being used to hold tabletop up. Tom Hermasillo and myself wore prescribed ppe to dispose of lead bricks.Building 664: Supervisors; Cleve Tuck, Chip Padilla, Tim Moore, Ed McCarthy. Duties:
Transport drums from cargo containers for shipment to various sites, WIPP shipments, Building Maintenance, Putting Drums on x-ray machine, locating drums in building to ship. Receive and weighing incoming drums from other building on sites and putting drums in storage. Notes: dosimeter required in building, changed out into modesty clothing.Building 371:
Supervisors: John Wrapp, Dave Arney. Duties: Waste Inspector (ensure drum contents are in compliance with guidelines), Waste team (disposing of all hazardous and non hazardous material properly from different production areas). Emptying out of radiological sludge tanks and inspecting drums with sludge in them, preparing canisters that held weapons grade plutonium for shipment (taking lead out of cans and putting on carts for transport to low level waste center) Assisting Dave Arney’s team in removal of these cans, Moving drums from hot area to cold area.
Notes: Handled cans on occasions that were hot enough to feel through anti contaminant gloves, was part of clean-up crew in 371 glove box fire. Building was modesty clothing and change out in back area. Showers available. Requirements to be considered for benefits: 250 days at a site, I have more than fulfilled that part of the requirement. Have 1 of 22 cancers. Breast cancer is on the list of cancers. I have been diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. The stage is based on the size of the tumor.
FACTS•Only 1 per cent of all males will get breast cancer. Very very seldom does breast cancer affect a man in my age group. I was 34 when I discovered the lump. 30 when I started my job at Rocky Flats. This information is according to National Cancer Society.•Rocky Flats has contributed to at least 5 cases of breast cancer in males.•It’s not just the dose amount that can affect the body. The body’s reaction to radiation is also something that is to consider.•Judy Padilla was diagnosed with breast cancer and did not have either one of the genes associated with the gene BRCA1 or BRCA2.In closing:The dose reconstruction process has been nothing but a waste of time. Judy Padilla has had to fight for eight years. Numerous other brothers and sisters from the Flats have fought long and hard to get the benefit that we are entitled to. When we checked into work every day we provided ourselves, and all we asked for was a safe work environment. So many have lost their lives only to have their grieving families to try to fight for what they are more than entitled to. As a brand new knuckle in the fist that has just joined the fight I can assure all that I’m not going anywhere. I have to change my career because I physically can’t perform on the level where I would be an effective employee.
This is due to me having lymphedema, (swelling in the area where the lymph nodes were taken out of). I have applied to get vocational rehab (help from state for changing careers) but there is a waiting list for this service.Right now I am employed at Sam’s Club working in the grocery area this job is quite physical but I have to do what I got to do right now to provide for my wife and two sons.The cancer has affected my life as a whole. With the settlement I will have renewed confidence because I will be able to retrain into an area that I am interested in. More importantly the bills that have accrued can finally be brought up to date.
I hope this material will be useful in our struggle as ex Rocky Flats workers.