Updated: Jun 22, 2021
Approximately one percent of breast cancer diagnoses each year occur in men. Tammey talks with male breast cancer survivor, Chris Gallo as they bust multiple myths around male breast cancer, discuss treatment similarities and talk about the very real hurdles men face in diagnosis and treatment as they navigate the female-focused world of breast cancer treatment.
Topics in this Episode:
”Like a half unshelled peanut…”
“A general practitioner who was not messing around”
“Like I said, a lot of men don't know about this mammogram”
“Expectations around what cancer is and what cancer looks like”
“The association I had with cancer, is death”
“Some pretty surprising reactions”
From a guy's perspective. How did you emotionally process?
“Did you get shark bit?”
Gratitude with intent
“My wife says I'm a different person”
“The tail end of that bell curve”
“I can tell them my experience”
“It's not as uncommon as we think it is”
Guest Contact Information and Social Links:
Male Breast Cancer Coalition: https://malebreastcancercoalition.org/
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This podcast is professionally edited by Roth Media
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Tammey Grable-Woodford: Hello, and welcome back to the, your killer life podcast. I'm your host, Tammey Grable-Woodford, and today I have a very special guest with me, Chris Gallo, and we're going to be breaking down some stereotypes, we're going to be doing a little bit of myth-busting, and we're going to be bringing some awareness to a really important topic.
And that is male breast cancer because, and there is a hashtag for this folks, men have breasts too. And we're going to talk about that. So welcome, Chris. I'm so excited to have you on the podcast.
Chris Gallo: Thank you. I'm happy to be here. It should be a lot of fun.
Tammey Grable-Woodford: Yes, it is going to be a lot of fun. So tell us a little bit about you.
Chris Gallo: Alright. I'm Chris Gallo. I'm 49 years old at 43 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I went through a bilateral mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation, and hormone therapy. And, uh, we're about six years later, and here I am feeling great.
Tammey Grable-Woodford: I love it and not just feeling great, but looking great. And this is one of the things, yeah, this is one of the things I keep pointing out with the, with the podcast and interviewing survivors and thrivers is there are so many of us, and you could bump into us on the street, and you would never know the battle scars that we have and what we've been through because just alive and thriving in the diagnosis.
So as a guy, what symptoms caught your attention? How did you, how did you know that you had something to get looked at?
”Like a half unshelled peanut.”
Chris Gallo: Okay. Originally I felt a small lump, and, uh, I pretty much, you know, I felt it. I didn't know what it was. It felt like, like a half unshelled peanut.
Tammey Grable-Woodford: Oh, wow.
Chris Gallo: Yeah, just the off, off my nipple on my right side. And I showed my wife, and she said, "Ah, I wouldn't be concerned about it." And we let it go for a couple of months.
But every day, I would feel it like something's wrong, but I just didn't pay any attention to it. And then, one day, I noticed my nipple started inverting, and I showed my wife again. And I guess she felt the different size, which I didn't feel because it's every day for me. So, so then she immediately called the doctor and sent me into the doctor.
Tammey Grable-Woodford: And when you went to the doctor because this is, I think you and I talked a little bit in the green room, and I'm actually going to admit to everybody that, that we have recorded before. And it was my first technological catastrophic failure, and we lost that interview. And so both of us are starting from this space of, did we talk about that?
Chris Gallo: Yeah.
Tammey Grable-Woodford: But as, as a guy and you have a lump in your breast, in your chest, and did you call your general practitioner? Did you call a specialist? Like where? Cause you're not going to the gynecologist. Right?
Chris Gallo: No, definitely. Definitely not. And it's pretty funny. You mentioned that. Cause I noticed on one of the Facebook pages the other day that someone said, when you have a problem, how do you call your oncologist or your breast care specialist? I'm thinking. Breast care specialist, what is it? What is that? So I actually asked that on the forum, but nobody answered me yet.
Tammey Grable-Woodford: Interesting.
Chris Gallo: So I don't know what an actual breast care specialist is. I mean, my surgeon was a breast surgeon, but I don't know if he would be considered my breast care specialist. Right. I don't know.
Tammey Grable-Woodford: I don't either, you know, and that's a, we could do a whole episode on that because you have so many doctors as you're going through this and then you get to the end, and it's almost like the primary care providers are like, no, no, you're not for us. Your cancer doctors are like, no, we're done now.
Chris Gallo: Yeah. Yeah. Pretty much.
Tammey Grable-Woodford: Where do I go?
“General practitioner who was not messing around”
Chris Gallo: Basically my oncologist is my go to now, but, but getting back to it, I, uh, I originally went to my general practitioner, my family doctor, and, uh, It was, it was pretty immediate for him to recognize what the problem was because when he did his, uh, I don't want to inspection, I'm going to call it, but it's not an inspection is a, what word am I looking for?
Tammey Grable-Woodford: Exam.
Chris Gallo: Exam. Thank you. When he did his exam, as I was on his seat table, he pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and called the mammogram biopsy people to set up an appointment for me. And basically, that's when the fear kind of set in a little bit, because he actually called them, and sent me an appointment on his cell phone to their cellphone, which to me was weird because usually they'll give you a little note.
You go up to the front counter and say, okay, make an appointment here is your referral, whatever. No, he called and made the appointment on the spot. So.
Tammey Grable-Woodford: So you had a very aware primary care provider, general practitioner who was not messing around. That's really that's awesome.
Chris Gallo: Yeah. Yeah. Which I didn't know
Tammey Grable-Woodford: Well, you know, it's interesting because I was diagnosed at 43. You and I had talked about this. It might, my nipple had inverted too. And the gynecologist asked me if I was sure my nipple hadn't always been inverted... (both laughing) At 43. I'd lived with them for a while. So I...
Chris Gallo: Yeah. You've had them quite a while. Right? (both laughing)
Tammey Grable-Woodford: Yeah. Yeah. But you know, it's interesting what you said about knowing your body and feeling like something's not right.
Because I always say to people, you know, we are the resident expert. We have been living in these bodies since birth. And so if you have that sensation, like something's not quite right, you really have to listen to that voice and yeah. And honor that.
Chris Gallo: And that's, that's a, that's a learning experience that came along with this too. Is. I was your typical man before this, where it'll go away. I'm not worried about it. I don't need to go see a doctor, but after this, everything I go to the doctor for now.
Tammey Grable-Woodford: It is one of those wake up calls. Isn't it. But that's also kind of one of the unfair things of cancer, especially at the beginning. It's like my elbow, my elbow twitches. I don't know. Maybe it's the elbow cancer, right? Like you just, everything is setting off alarms. Okay. So your GP, he made the appointment.
Now, I'm going to guess that when you went well, actually, did you go for a mammogram, and were you probably the only guy there and talk to us a little bit about that process, and did you get a biopsy as well?
“Like I said, a lot of men don't know about this mammogram”
Chris Gallo: Yeah, so, um, I want to, for some reason, remember it all happened the same day where I had the mammogram ultrasound and biopsy, but the biopsy might've been a different day. I don't remember because, and I've heard this in your other podcasts. It's like, yeah, you don't remember things. It's like what happened when and how, but, so yeah, the the mammogram is no different for men than it is for women.
It's just less to put in the little squisher.
Tammey Grable-Woodford: Ow.
Chris Gallo: So, um, yeah, so that was definitely an experience. And like I said, a lot of men don't know about this mammogram and, uh, So, yeah, I went through it, and they squished it in there, and it was uncomfortable. So I couldn't, I think it would be more uncomfortable with more, to be honest with you. Cause it's more squishy, but I don't know.
Tammey Grable-Woodford: I don't know, it's not comfortable, period. So, and then you had the ultrasound, so you had your mammogram and ultrasound...
Chris Gallo: So I had the mammogram and ultrasound, and here was the another, another spark to me that this was not going to be like a good outcome, even though it's a good outcome now. But when I was having the ultrasound, I was talking with the ultrasound tech, and we were having a conversation like this back and forth smiling.
And I guess when her image came up on her screen, she liked just stopped talking. And she just, I can see her concentrating on his screen, and it just like scared me. Where I made a joke. I asked her, I said, is it a boy or a girl? And she, you know, and she was like, "Uh... it's okay." And that's pretty much all she said.
So it was, yeah.
Tammey Grable-Woodford: There is that, that weird space because my, my gynecologist was really good about ordering the ultrasound and mammogram on the same day, but yeah, when you're there and for me, it was, you know, go ahead and just leave your gown on. Um, I think the doctor's gonna want to a different image from a different view and then coming back and saying, yeah, you know, we just didn't quite get, so we need to, and like, you know, right.
You're like, Hm. Yeah. And then when they took me for the ultrasound, I was like, okay,
Chris Gallo: And I'm going to assume they're much more comfortable with women in there, cause I'm sure they don't see a lot of men.
Tammey Grable-Woodford: Probably not, but you know, I have to tell you, my ultrasound tech was crying. So that, and that really startled me. And when the radiologist came in and told me you have cancer and a lot of it; it was the ultrasound tech that was in the corner with tears coming out of her eyes. And that probably scared me more than anything.
And it was just so much of it probably. So, yeah.
Chris Gallo: So kinda, I had a little bit of the experience like that. She wasn't crying, but when I went into the next room, and I remember some paperwork, she was telling me that it's going to be a journey. It's going to be a tough journey, but I'll, I'll be fine. And I am thinking, "oookay...."
Tammey Grable-Woodford: Oh, no.
Chris Gallo: Nobody, didn't get no. And I called them. I told that story once before to someone, and they're like, no, they can't tell you if you have cancer or not.
They're just an ultrasound technician. And I'm like, well, she really didn't tell me that. But she kinda, whether she meant to say what she said, or she didn't, it came across, you know?
And I'm sorry if you hear the dogs barking.
“Expectations around what cancer is and what cancer looks like”
Tammey Grable-Woodford: I do, but that's okay. You know what? We are living in their crazy world of COVID everybody's communicating by video... zoom... whatever. So really it's like people are having coffee with us at your house, with your dogs.
So it, yeah, that's true. They're not supposed to, but, but at the same time, like, you know, there's you, you know, and so it's sort of an understood, I think, more than anything and, and the radiologist, he did let me know that day.
And I didn't expect that either. I had never really had any major, anything done. And so I didn't expect to same day, uh, results. So, and of course, at that point, they just told me that I had cancer. I didn't know what type, I didn't even know there were different types until I had my biopsy. So you had your biopsy...
Chris Gallo: I had my biopsy, and I didn't know there was different types of breast cancer either, the breast cancers, breast scans. But yeah, so I had my biopsy, and then I guess they said the results came back. They sent it to my primary physician, and he actually called me. I was actually up at, Daytona bike week when the results came in, and it was like a Thursday afternoon.
They call me up. And they said, you need to come in tomorrow morning. And I said, well, I'm actually up in the Daytona for the weekend, for bike week, and I'm not home this weekend. And they're like, "No, the doctor needs to see you first thing in the morning." And I'm thinking really lady, you know, I, I know what you're trying to say, but you're not going to tell me on the phone because I think I even asked her, well, just tell me on the phone.
And she said, I can't. And I said, well, I'm not coming home so I can come Monday. And I guess before they called me, which I didn't know, they called my wife's phone. So she knew, and she was actually on the way to the doctor's office. So then they call me back, and they're like, well, your wife just walked in. Can we talk to her about it?
I said, you can, but I want you to understand I'm not coming home for the weekend. So, you know, don't get her upset. But my wife was there and wanted to know, and I knew what they were going to tell me already. So I was thinking... you know, personally, I thought this could have been handled a little better where they could have waited until Monday because what's going to change over the weekend, except my mind thinking and racing and going crazy.
So, so that was part of the experience there too.
Tammey Grable-Woodford: Yeah. That's a tough thing with it... because once you know, it just sort of kicks off a bunch more questions and then all of the sort of... oh... bias that has been placed, right? Of an, of expectations around what cancer is and what cancer looks like when, especially for me, I di... I had never had anyone in my family that I had been through any kind of a cancer diagnosis with, and so it was completely foreign to me. All I knew really was what the media tells me cancer is like, right? And that's not necessarily the best example.
“The association I had with cancer, is death.”
Chris Gallo: No, no. And we kind of spoke about it last time. Cause you're already said that we tried this before and now having this cancer diagnosis, breast cancer for a male, I have two daughters. And at the time I'm thinking, how do I tell my, my little girls, that I, how old were they? They were 13 and 10 or something like that, or 12 and nine at the time.
And I'm thinking they're going to be on a bus. They're going to say my dad has cancer. And then the kid behind them is going to pop up in the seat and say, "Oh, my grandfather just died from cancer." Or, you know, so that was, that was almost like my biggest worry at the time is how my kid is going to take this.
Cause they're so young and they don't understand, and I think I said this to you last time too is me for this, I assume you heard cancer. I thought death. And that that's just the association I had with cancer, is death. People with cancer die, and it's not true.
Which I know now, but that was my mentality at the time.
And that's what I feared for my kids. And people would say, "Oh, yeah, somebody just died from cancer in my family." Or, and then my girls have to live with that fear.
Tammey Grable-Woodford: Yeah, and I was always amazed. I don't know if it happened to you, but it seems like a pretty common story for those of us that are in the secret, not so secret cancer club, that you have people who start to tell you a story, and you're always hoping for this positive outcome. And it's always like, yeah, my sister, brother, cousin, uncle, whatever, whatever, whatever, I had a great friend, and they went through all this stuff, and they were telling me this... and then they died.
And you're like, "Okay..."
Chris Gallo: It's it's interesting. Cause I was just talking to somebody this week, and she was telling me how her sister or I said, you know, I went through breast cancer and like, "Oh my God, my sister went through breast cancer. She died four years ago." And I'm thinking, okay, Great. It's just what I need to hear, you know, but I know it's different now.
And so, but it's like, sometimes people don't really think what they're saying, or maybe they're just uncomfortable, and they don't know. I don't, you know?
Tammey Grable-Woodford: It's probably all of the above, right? Like I think I need to do a blog post on all of the things not to, not to say. Because you know, on the one hand, they want to relate and they, they want to connect, but they're not not necessarily thinking through the whole, whole story. And that is really hard because, you know, I don't know about you, but for me when I was first diagnosed, man, it was what decisions do I need to make and what information do I need to consume?
And what do I need to know, to make a decision in the next 24 hours for my optimal outcome? And that was my focus. How do I live?
Chris Gallo: Well, luckily for me, I had my wife with me at the time, and I was, I was just lost. I didn't know what to think, which direction to go. And she just like, handled everything, asked all the questions that needed to be asked, got the answer if she wanted. Yeah. So I got really blessed on that.
Tammey Grable-Woodford: That is awesome. So, You were off racing bikes or something. Your wife did get, I tell you as a, as a, as a cancer survivor, that makes total sense to me. Like what's going to change between Friday and Monday. I'm going to go enjoy my weekend to the best of my ability. So, what type of cancer did you find out that you had?
Chris Gallo: Invasive ductal carcinoma. Did I say that correctly? Yes, I think I did.
Tammey Grable-Woodford: Yes. You did. You did.
Chris Gallo: Yes. Okay. I usually mess up a word here or there, but yeah, invasive ductal carcinoma, and it was stage 2a.
Tammey Grable-Woodford: And so was it then, of course, you don't know until you have the mastectomies, but, um, was it, and you had bilateral mastectomy.
Chris Gallo: Yes, that's correct.
Tammey Grable-Woodford: Okay. Was it in both sides or did you, how did you make that decision or what kind of...
Chris Gallo: It was only in one side, but I also had the BRCA test, and I was positive for the BRCA gene. So my surgeon pretty much was leaning towards a bilateral basically because he told me because of the BRCA gene, because of the rarity in men and the mutation of my cancer, he believed the best way to go would be the bilateral.
Tammey Grable-Woodford: That I'm going to say is myth two, that we are busting on this episode today. Because myth one is that men do get breast cancer and I've known two other men in my life who have had breast cancer, and they are both alive. Just so you know, I'm going to finish that story with a positive. And, um, so that's one.
And then the other is that the BRCA gene mutation, not only is it, you know, obviously, it's a gene mutation, so of course, men can have that gene mutation, but that it can impact them and their health in this way.
Chris Gallo: Right.
Tammey Grable-Woodford: Did you know of anyone in your family that had tested positive for that gene mutation?
Chris Gallo: No, I did not. I had an aunt on my mother's side who had breast cancer, maybe ten years before I was diagnosed, and they did a lumpectomy, and it actually came back, and they ended up doing a mastectomy, but she was never tested for the gene. My father had prostate cancer. He passed, but not from the prostate cancer.
So they did the radiation pellets and whatever they did for prostate, but he got past it, but he was never tested for the gene. And then, after I went through the breast cancer, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, and when she was going through her treatment, and she passed, but she was tested, and she was negative for the gene.
Tammey Grable-Woodford: Oh, wow.
Chris Gallo: So, yeah. Interesting.
Tammey Grable-Woodford: I'm going to say that. That's then number three, myth, busted that it would seem then have the doctors said it would seem, it came from your father's side of the family.
Chris Gallo: I have to assume. Because my mother didn't have it unless, you know... I heard some people say, well, she could have been an active carrier of it or something and pass it. But I don't, I don't know. I'm not a doctor. So, but yeah, I found that odd that my aunt, my mother's sister had breast cancer, and my mother had breast cancer, and I had breast cancer, but I have the gene, and my mother didn't have the gene.
So it's, it's weird.
Tammey Grable-Woodford: That is, that is interesting. So, all right. So then that's how you decided to have the bilateral mastectomy and talk to us a little bit about this process. There's something that, and we did because we did speak about this before. And I literally made myself a note because I thought this was so important.
That I wanted to talk about just sort of the, um, some of the, I don't know if barriers is the right word, but maybe awkwardness is a better way of putting it of kind of being the,
Chris Gallo: Absolutely.
Tammey Grable-Woodford: Yeah. Okay. So you know where I'm going.
Chris Gallo: I know where you're going. Yeah. So, so basically everywhere I went, I was going to the woman's breast center. You know, and every time I walked in there, they would hand the papers to my wife. Cause she was standing next to me, and she would just slide them over to me, and their eyes would light up like, Oh, and I'm like, yeah.
So, and they always gave me the form, and they wanted to know who my gynecologist was when my last menstrual cycle was. And I said I don't. And they said, Oh no, you have to fill that form out. We need all the forms. And I'm like, well, what do you want me to put on here? And it was funny because it was one place I went where they made me fill it out, like every time.
Tammey Grable-Woodford: Oh, Lord.
Chris Gallo: And I'm like, really, but yeah, going through all of a pink wash and everything is, you know, "strong women," "fight like a girl." And here I am out here on my own, you know, and this is how I felt,
Tammey Grable-Woodford: Right.
Chris Gallo: Um, because I didn't really have the male breast cancer support system, which I have now, which you already mentioned.
Hashtag men have breasts too. And there's a lot more out there, but that's the main one and a while we just like skip and off to the side with that, the male breast cancer coalition, amazing people. And I mentioned it last time. One of the head of it is a Peggy Miller who son Brett Miller was diagnosed with breast cancer.
I want to say when he was 23 years old or 24, a young twenties. But I think if I'm not mistaken with his story, which he'd be another great guy to have on your show, by the way. He found it when he was in his teens, but they kept, yeah, they kept pushing it away. Like it's nothing, don't worry about it. And I think in his early twenties he was diagnosed, but you can also find all of those stories on the male breast cancer coalition website or Facebook page.
Tammey Grable-Woodford: Yeah, I will definitely reach out to them because that is such a, such an important part of being your own advocate. I have to tell you one of the things that wowed me about your story was just, you had not only is your wife amazing. You had amazing providers from the beginning. Took you seriously and didn't waste any time.
And that is just so huge.
Chris Gallo: Yeah. It was pretty amazing that... from... like I said immediately walking into my general physician's office to him immediately setting up when that diagnosis came back, it was, uh, March 13th and April 22nd. I was on the table having my surgery.
Tammey Grable-Woodford: Wow.
Chris Gallo: So it was just over a month later, I was in surgery.
Tammey Grable-Woodford: That's that's incredible. And did you also have Sentinel nodes removed when you had your mastectomy?
Chris Gallo: Yes. I had a, I want to say 26 removed. They found two with positive with the cancer and the two nodes that I kept going until they got a clear, clear margins, but yeah. So I had the nodes removed. I got to wear my sleeve when I do my workouts, and I'm at risk for lymphedema, which, you know, a lot of men don't know about that either, because why would they.
Tammey Grable-Woodford: Right. And that is amazing. I, I had an episode. I want to say it was episode six with a lymphedema guru. Uh, Joe. Goodness, his last name is gonna escape me right now, but he is amazing. And lymphedemablog.com is amazing, and he's got so much great free information out there for, for all of us breasties that have gone through this and are at risk because I, you know, I only had the two removed and a lot of people don't know that even just with lumpectomy, you're at risk, you know?
So it's, it's a serious thing. Now, did you ever have symptoms of lymphedema?
Chris Gallo: Actually. Yeah. In the beginning, going through the healing process. And like I said before, you know, I got diagnosed in March, and I was in surgery in April. So making all these decisions, everything, like I said, it, I see, I remember last time I might've said that I haven't said it yet on this show, but yeah, I was lost.
Tammey Grable-Woodford: Yeah.
Chris Gallo: I was lost. I was overwhelmed. I didn't know which way to think which way to go. Um, I had a couple of, uh, second consultations with different doctors to see what directions to go in. And, uh, so yeah, I went and saw, I think four different surgeons. In that month before I decided where I'm going to go.
So it's a pretty short period of time to make these pretty large life-changing decisions. Um, So, yeah, so I did that. And then, after my surgery, I went and started going to physical and occupational therapy even before my chemo started, and yeah, I was having symptoms. So they would do lymphatic drainage massage, and try to get me back, moving around.
And then I went through the chemo, so I had to stop. Well, no, did I stop? I think I stopped going to therapy because I was just beat up, uh, the, the chemotherapy whipped my butt. So I guess it was still recovering from the surgeries going through the chemo, it just beat me up so bad. And then, I went through the radiation, which I feel like I had no healing time.
So probably for just over a year, I was beat up and down and out.
Tammey Grable-Woodford: You know, I do not church it up in my language when it comes to cancer, because the treatments are brutal. The mastectomies are brutal and violent. The treatments are, I mean, it is an assault on yourself, and it's not without purpose, obviously. Right? As we all are making the best decisions and going through the treatments, they, you know, the goal is, is a better outcome, a longer life, and remission or no evidence of disease for perpetuity, if we can get away with it, right? Like, so it is with purpose, and you know, that going into it, but that doesn't make it any less difficult, or tiring, or just painful in, in how it is zaps everything from your energy to your confidence, to it's emotionally draining, physically draining, psychologically draining.
It's just an absolute assault on your being. In my opinion.
Chris Gallo: Absolutely. You know, thinking of that now, going back thinking, and I've been listening to your other podcast, and I know you were just talking about drugs and medication. And, uh, I remember when I went to see my oncologist, and she was prescribing me all my pills for my chemo. She prescribed me like a bottle of 150 oxies, and I'm like, what am I going to do with that?
And he's going to make me a drug addict. I don't need this. But I ended up taking every one of them. Just to the zonk out because I was in so much pain and uncomfortable. So that was just another hit. Like I said, I heard your show on that, on the drugs. And I was like, that is so exactly how it happens.
Tammey Grable-Woodford: It is. And you do... like it because. It's hard to know until you've been through it. And it's hard to share because every, every physical body is so different when you start to go through it. And I always joke now because when I go in for surgeries, I'm like, and these are the meds that work best for me. And no, I'm not a drug seeker... I've just had surgery six times in the last four and a half years, five years, five and a half years now.
Chris Gallo: You know, way too much on which drugs work.
Tammey Grable-Woodford: I do! And trust me, I get the side glance. You do like, you know, what works for you. And so, but it's, I also was, you know, I've always been one of those people that even with like, I don't, I don't need a Tylenol. I don't need an Advil. I don't need a whatever. I'll just work through it. And there's something about, uh, the deep deep to the core pain that, unless you're, you're there, like I will never, ever in my life ever question a chronic pain patient, because that was the other thing I came out of with reconstruction with chronic pain.
And I had no idea that that would be in my, in my future. It's better now with the last procedure. I had, but yeah.
So when we talked last time, And I had asked the question, you're going to probably know right where I'm going with this too, but I'd ask the question of how it went as you were telling your coworkers and your friends and stuff, and starting to, to let folks know that this was in your future.
“Some pretty surprising reactions.”
Chris Gallo: Yeah, I was at work one day, and I was telling a coworker. And he, like I said, Hey, I got breast cancer. And he started like hysterical, laughing, and patting me on the back. You know, like, man, what are you joking for? Why are you? That's just such a stupid joke. And I'm like, no, man; it's not a joke. And he said, yeah, it is! Men can't have breast cancer.
And I'm like, well, I have breast cancer. And I guess he realized it's not a joke. And he put it together, and it's just so serious. But he was, it was like, The best, knock-knock joke he ever heard at first, you know, he was just, he was just hysterical, and I'm like, no, man, it's not funny. And, uh, yeah. So I got a lot of reactions like that from most of them, most of the men, not everybody laughing.
They're like, but everyone surprised, you know, like men, how do you have breast cancer, men get breast cancer. And I'm like, yeah, they do. So.
Tammey Grable-Woodford: That is, I have to tell you when that broke my heart, when you, when you told me that the first time and it still does, and it also just reinforces how much I appreciate you coming on the show to talk about it because we have listeners that are caregivers, and, you know, sons and husbands and, and every man should know that it's something that they need to be aware of within their body as well.
And so thank you again for coming on and sharing that story as crappy as that was in that moment without a doubt. But, you know, being the, being able to be here now and share that story and be such an advocate.
Chris Gallo: Yeah. So like you said, everybody's got some male in their life, whether it's a son, brother, uncle, father, cousin, that knows somebody that. Needs to be aware, but you know, everybody needs to be aware because everybody is susceptible to getting breast cancer. Really. If you're a human being, you can get breast cancer.
Tammey Grable-Woodford: Exactly.
Chris Gallo: And we got to spread the word that like, we, we all know about breast cancer. Now, I think through all the fundraisers and walks and marches in October. But a lot of people don't know that men get it too. And just recently I started seeing in some of their literature from the bigger cancer advocate, people about men and they're putting men in.
So it's not just geared towards women and women anymore,
Tammey Grable-Woodford: That is great news. I'm really glad to hear that.
Chris Gallo: A lot of people probably won't pick up on that. But that's something I look at, and I see, and I pick up immediately, you know?
Tammey Grable-Woodford: Yeah.
I, and I would too. I think those of us that are in that, in the, in that breast cancer
“From a guy's perspective. How did you emotionally process?”
Chris Gallo: Secret club.
Tammey Grable-Woodford: Yeah, we definitely, we, we do, because we want to make sure that that we're all taken care of and that we all have the best possible outcome. I think maybe another myth that we bust is that you did go through like your treatment was the gold standard of treatment for a invasive ductal carcinoma.
And so you did, in addition to the bilateral mastectomy, which was from the BRCA, you also did the chemotherapy, you did the radiation, so your body went through the hair loss. And so I know for women, losing our hair, and losing our eyelashes, and losing that part of our identity, in addition to our breasts, it is very traumatic, PTSD, confidence, annihilating. Like there are so many different ways I can describe the pain of that.
From a guy's perspective. How did you emotionally process going through all of that? And was that also for you, a huge confidence hit and, and, um, did you feel sort of, you know, how did you feel? I'll just put it that way. How did you feel going through that?
Chris Gallo: The eyebrows did it for me when the eyebrows were gone, I felt and looked sick. You know what I mean? Before that, there was still eyebrows, my hair was coming out, so I shaved it. Um, no big deal. I've shaved my head in the past just for hot summers, you know, but when my eyebrows were gone, it was just like visibly I felt sick.
And I felt like I looked sick, and I also had no color in my skin. You know, it's pale white, but, but to me, it was the eyebrows. I was white, pale white before the eyebrows fell out. But when the eyebrows were gone, that's when I kind of felt sick. So yeah, it's traumatic. I look back, and I have a picture of somewhere with no eyebrows, and I look at it, and I'm like, wow.
But yeah, got through it. And like I said, I feel so much better now.
Tammey Grable-Woodford: Oh yeah. Yeah, Now, did you have any reconstruction or did you have, I mean, now for women, they have the aesthetic flat closure, and for women, it's a little more complicated cause we have the extra, um, tissue as far as getting flat. It's a little more complicated because we have the extra tissue. So did you have a plastic surgeon consult?
Was it your general surgeon that did that. And did you have any reconstruction at all?
Chris Gallo: No, no reconstruction. And the actual surgeon is a breast surgeon. So he works at the Moffitt Moffitt cancer center, and he specializes in breast, breast surgery, and breast care. So I guess that would be my breast care specialist, but, but yeah, so. And we talked about this last time, and I wouldn't have referred to it like this, but I guess it is like a flat closure, I guess, is what you would call it.
But it its super clean, um, the way it looks for me, I don't feel like I need reconstruction. So I don't know if I'd want to go through that from some of the stories I hear either.
"Did you get shark bit?"
Tammey Grable-Woodford: Yeah, I have my stories on that. Although I will say, nipple reconstruction was the easiest of all of the surgeries I've had. And I'm assuming, based on how we started this story about, uh, your nipple retracting, that you were not able to keep your nipples or did you...
Chris Gallo: Yep. Nope, no nipples. Nipples are gone. So it, like I said, it, the surgery to me, it looks real clean. My scars are not puffy like I've seen on other scars. So they came out real nice, no nipples. And I think I told you this last time I swim a lot. So I'm out a lot with no shirt on. And I've only been asked one time about my scars, and someone asked me, they said, "What happened to you? Were you bit by a shark?" Right. Then we talked about this last time, I think.
So I was like, "What?" Their like, "Did you get shark bit?" And I'm like, no. And then like what happened? I said, I had breast cancer, and she was also surprised that I had breast cancer, but yeah, it was like awakening for her too, because she was like a breast cancer.
And I'm like, yeah. So she thought I was shark bit though. I thought that was funny.
Tammey Grable-Woodford: Oh, my goodness. That is funny. So, and well, and you live in Florida, right? So that is an actual potential. Yeah. Yeah.
Chris Gallo: Oh yeah. I think it's almost weekly here.
Tammey Grable-Woodford: Ah, that's terrifying. So, um, so, but you had, and you had tattoos before. I think I remember I was talking about that because tattoos were big for me, but you already had some,
Chris Gallo: I had one and the surgeon work like right around the tattoos, so he didn't even remove any of the tattoo that was on my chest, and it kind of. It was okay. I've been thinking about getting a tattoo on the other side,
Tammey Grable-Woodford: Yeah.
Chris Gallo: But I dunno, it's very like numb but sensitive at the same time. So, you know, so I don't know, you know what I'm talking
Tammey Grable-Woodford: I do. And sometimes it was like, like a ultrasonic toothbrush. You just feel the vibration and then, but the problem is I fell asleep and then found she found a nerve and that,
Chris Gallo: Oh, that woke you up?.
Tammey Grable-Woodford: That woke me up! So yeah, it's definitely different. So let's dive into if you're comfortable with this, and you can always say you're not comfortable, but let's dive into a little bit about sexuality, sensuality, and relationships because your wife was amazing, and she was there for you.
And I mean, I have so much love for her just because just by how much love you have and share for her. And I know for me that, you know, feeling attractive, was a challenge for quite some time. And from a guy's perspective going through this, was there an impact for you in that area? If you're comfortable talking about it.
Chris Gallo: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. So going through this surgery and then basically being in bed or on the couch, I was actually in a recliner chair for almost a year. If not over a year. I gained a bunch of weight because they had me on, you know, well, You didn't go through chemo. Right?
Tammey Grable-Woodford: No, I didn't.
Chris Gallo: You went so, so the chemotherapy. And I think you also talked about this in another one, you know, one second you're pooping, and then now you can't poop for days. And now everything's coming out. So you either constipated or diarrhea there's no, there's no in-between. So going through that, you know, I gained a bunch of weight. They gave me a Marinol to keep my appetite up, but it really keeps your appetite up, and I ate everything. So I gained a bunch of weight cause I was doing nothing but sitting around taking medication and eating.
Um, and then I had like this whole shelf though, my belly just stuck out, no breast tissue and I'd look odd, just look odd, you know? So I was like, what?
So it was very weird. Sexuality that whole time. No, I had no sexual... I didn't even sexual desire. I mean, yeah, on my end. I don't know how my wife felt looking at me at that time, but my end, I just, I was too beat up to even think about sex.
Tammey Grable-Woodford: Yeah, we, we ladies, call that the Buddha belly that we have no idea. Right. And you go through these surgeries, and it seems like every procedure, for some reason, you get a distended abdomen. And then when you have negative breast tissue, that's all you see.
Chris Gallo: Yes. The Buddha belly. Yeah, it's better. Without the breasts.
Tammey Grable-Woodford: Yes.
Gratitude with intent
Chris Gallo: So it's not even like it's equaling out and making it look a little bit consistent. You know, you have a void and then the rest.
Tammey Grable-Woodford: Yes!
And you know, that's interesting because a lot of people, I think, and you were gracious enough to provide me with some photos, and I'm going to put those in the show notes, um, out on the blog for folks to see, because you, you weathered this. And of course, like, you know, probably looking back and being in the middle of that train ride, it probably didn't feel like it, but you have really embraced, just... it seems living intentionally and in the moment. And have worked so hard on reclamation and getting your health back.
Do you want to talk with us a little bit about the... maybe the hardest part. And then also kind of the, because people don't believe me when I say this, there are a lot of silver linings and trust me, and I've said this, people are going to get tired of hearing me say it.
But when my medical oncologist said to me, some people say that this is one of the best things that ever happened to them in their life. I wanted to throat punch him. And yet here I am five and a half years later saying I now intentionally live every day and seek my joy because of this. And had I not had this experience, it would have been, I still would be an automaton in the corporate world and, and, you know, banking, banking my vacation and my happiness for a future day.
Chris Gallo: That's right. Yeah, absolutely. So going back. A couple of things you already hit on? Well, the worst thing is I really felt like when I was going through everything, I felt like I wasn't coming out of this. You know, I felt defeated. I felt like I wasn't going to go back to work. I felt like I was going to be on social security disability, and how am I going to take care of my family? Plus, all that medicine brain and chemo brain and nothing's working. I just, that was the worst part about it.
The best part. Was like I said, it's almost like finding myself. And what helped me is actually the physical therapy, occupational therapy place. I went to, which is actually called Doctors of Women's Health.
Who... but I got to tell you, what a difference in my life, these therapists have made. Um actually, one of them became one of my best friends and helped me find my health. So. I run every day now. I've actually ran, the longest I ran was a 50k. So these are things I would have never imagined doing in my life.
Yeah. I just make sure my day is joyful. You know, I make it a purpose. Like you said, I used to bank all my time. At the time, luckily, I did bank all my sick time, vacation time. Cause I used it all. But, but now I use it for vacation. If I want to make a long weekend to go do something, I'm going to make a long weekend.
I try to get out every morning and get the sunrise. I just live with that purpose of today. Today is my day. We're going to make something happen today. I'm going to enjoy it. I'm going to smile. I'm going to try to make other people smile. And that's pretty much how I try to go through every day.
“My wife says I'm a different person”
Tammey Grable-Woodford: I love that. And as a, as a parent, as a father, has this experience impacted how you communicate with your girls and I forget their age now, but they're getting close to graduating and starting college. And...
Chris Gallo: Next week she's going off to college. So 18 and 15 next week too! Next week, the younger one will be 15. And then next week we move our oldest one. Who's 18 out to college.
Tammey Grable-Woodford: Wow. So, okay. So we all have the American dream, right? All those boxes that you tick off, but now you've had this, uh, this different experience and awakening and has that kind of...
Chris Gallo: It's funny you say that because this whole time going through this and trying to find my health, I was still on the hormone therapy. Which never helped me feel good. I tried so hard, but I just never felt good. So they had me on anastrozole for five years, and then they wanted me on Tamoxifen, Tamoxifen for the next five.
But in talking with my doctor, I opted out of Tamoxifen. I said, look, I need a couple of months break. I want to feel better. I want to see.
My wife says I'm a different person. I was grouchy all the time. I was aggravated. And it was absolutely the medication. So, unfortunately, that five years, I was aggravated, you know, even though I was trying so hard, not to be. Every little thing would aggravate me, exhausted all the time, but I'd still wake up and go try to run, you know, I'd still go to the gym. I'd still get a workout in, but I didn't realize what a hold that medication had on me.
Tammey Grable-Woodford: I am so glad you brought that up because I forgot to ask you that. So was your cancer estrogen, progesterone positive.
Chris Gallo: Yes.
Tammey Grable-Woodford: Okay. And that is another myth that we're going to bust right here because when it comes to hormones, we all have them all. It's just the ratios.
Chris Gallo: That's right.
Tammey Grable-Woodford: And so you were on medication then that would halt, uh, some of that estrogen, absorption or production.
And it's, it is very impactful on the body, and the side effects of the treatments are, they can also... even even the oral meds can be very brutal, so
Chris Gallo: Yup. The bone pains, the weight gain, the hot flashes. Yeah, I was, I was having it all. So it, uh, it was, it, it was tough, but at the time I didn't realize how tough it was
Tammey Grable-Woodford: Right.
Chris Gallo: Until I stopped taking it. And she, my, my oncologist wanted me to just take a break and then go on the Tamoxifen. But I was talking to her, explaining everything to her.
She said, you know what? You're doing. Great. You look great. It's about quality of life.
Tammey Grable-Woodford: Yes.
Chris Gallo: And if you're doing this well and looking this good. I'm going to say you're good. You're good not to take it. So that was a good reinforcement for me and my decisions to not take, you know, to not want to take them.
Cause I would have went right along with the program and kept taking it, but I stopped, and I try not to read things on the internet because that'll make you make you nuts too.
Tammey Grable-Woodford: That explains me because I read everything on the internet and that it was... and that's probably why.
Chris Gallo: It's funny because just the other day, there was a story on one of the sites about men and Tamoxifen. And the recurrence rate is so much less with the Tamoxifen, and I'm thinking wow, I didn't take it. Where am I now? But, but like I said, I'm going to do better for myself. I'm going to eat healthy.
I'm going to, you know, try to just avoid things that I don't need and, and try to do the best I can to live healthy.
“The tail end of that bell curve”
Tammey Grable-Woodford: You know, it is this balance. And I, with my stage 3b ILC, I did decline chemotherapy, radiation, and hormone suppressing therapies. And my cancer had metastasized to the dermis. So it was in my nipple. And it had metastasized to my lymph nodes, the two Sentinel nodes that we removed. I declined having further nodes removed, and I chose to work with a naturopathic oncologist, and my, my cancer is lobular.
So it's also different in how it presents and how long it takes to, you know, for recurrence and all of those things. And so I did do all of my research on that for me. And I say for me because really you're the one looking at the pros and cons of every treatment option and decision and that shared decision making with your providers. And you can not completely omit quality of life as you're measuring these things.
And I mean, there's been every person I've ever spoken to that's had cancer. Our goal is always the same, and that is to be on the tail end of that bell curve, right. For longevity. That's what we are all after. And you don't really know until you're faced with those decisions and the realities of the decisions that you're making and how that impacts you in so many different and sometimes unexpected ways.
Chris Gallo: Yes. And, and there's not a lot of time to make those decisions. Cause you know, they tell you and they're like, all right, we gotta do something. Cause this is going to keep going. And your mind is just so spun. You don't know what the direction you're going, which way to go. So I give you a lot of credit to be able to do all that research that you did to come up with your decisions to do, because obviously it's, it's working for you.
Tammey Grable-Woodford: It is. And, but that's the thing, right? Like I had a, I had a girlfriend called me once, and she said to me, how come you didn't have to do chemo? And I said, well, they recommended chemo, and I declined it. And she's about how come you didn't have to do it. And she was facing that chemo decision herself. And I said, they wanted me to do it. I declined it. You, you could decline it too, but let me ask you a deeper question. When you think about doing chemo, how do you feel. And she said, well, they're telling me that, that, and I said, no, no, no. How do you feel? And she paused for a minute. And she said, well, I feel like that's my that's, that's how I'm going to be healed.
I feel like doing that is going to extend my life. And I said, well, then that's your answer?
Chris Gallo: Yep. That's what you do.
Tammey Grable-Woodford: That's your treatment path and, and again, and that's sort of that sixth sense of knowing in your gut. And I'm sure there's a lot of people, I'll probably get some comments on this one on all my "woo-woo" stuff, but again, paying attention to your body, listening to what feels right for you, having ownership, and being your own advocate.
And, you know, I also knew that if I changed my mind later, all of that stuff is still there, but we couldn't find any cancer in my body at the time. And so...
Chris Gallo: A hard decision to make saying, well, we can, we can wait until later
Tammey Grable-Woodford: Right? And it is, it is, it's equally hard. It's like, there's no right answer, and there's no wrong answer. And so you really are what feels like the right path for my treatment based on my providers and my medical team and, and the whole bit, it's
Chris Gallo: And the key, keyword there is you. Because everybody's different. And it's a hard question. If someone asks you, you know, should I do chemo? You did great without chemo. What should I do? How are you going to tell somebody? You know? And so I get it. It's hard because I would hate to tell someone to do chemo or not to do chemo.
Tammey Grable-Woodford: Right?
Chris Gallo: Cause I cause my experience, like I said, it beat me up so bad. I don't know what I would say. I couldn't tell somebody to make my influence their decision.
“I can tell them my experience”
Tammey Grable-Woodford: No, and I wouldn't feel right doing that. Every one of us has to make that decision really, truly. And when we talk about the different types of cancer, right, you've got triple negative, you've got in situ, you've got invasive, you've got lobular, you have got ductile, you've got inflammatory. Right. And so all of these things that you're looking at, and then whether or not it's hormone receptors, whether it's.
HER2+ or HER2- And you know, so it's, it's not every one of us is a distinct individual case. And then you add into that family history and genetics and right? And it's so...
Chris Gallo: And age and everything. So there's so many factors. Yeah.
Tammey Grable-Woodford: So really is what does that best decision for me? And I, and I hate to say that only you will know when it's you having to make those choices. And, and trust me, I've had those conversations where I'm like, should I have done it?
Chris Gallo: Yeah.
Tammey Grable-Woodford: You know?
Chris Gallo: But the funny thing is, and I'm sure you too, cause you just said, somebody asked you, but I got asked to what should I do? I can tell them my experience, but you can't base it on my experience. Like someone, I just met someone who just finished all their treatments. I haven't talked to her yet cause she just moved back to town.
But when she was diagnosed, I spoke to her, and she asked me. And she's a very natural type person, and she didn't want to do any treatments, but I guess something happened and she did all the treatments. So, you know, you never know, it's gotta be, like you said, what you feel for your body and your mind, with the advice you get from your professionals.
Tammey Grable-Woodford: Exactly. And I always say none of, none of us volunteered for this shitshow.
Chris Gallo: Right
Tammey Grable-Woodford: Like we did not sign up and say, let's do that. So, you know, you find yourself in the middle of it and it is really just being in the, not the eye of the storm, where it's calm, you are literally on that outer edge of a tornado.
And you're just trying to figure out, you know, what is best for me. And there's so much pressure there's pressure from family there's pressure from, you know, and, and so my biggest takeaway for me is that I will always. Love on a person and their decision, because their decision is the best decision for them.
And yeah. And that is the best way to be because all we can do is support and love each other through this, those of us who have been through it, whatever elements of it, love and support each other through it.
“It's not as uncommon as we think it is”
Chris Gallo: Yep. That's it. And help him find joy. Cause he'd make a joyful day and a smile and move on, right?
Tammey Grable-Woodford: Exactly. Exactly. Oh my gosh. So what would you, as we get close to wrapping up, what would you tell our male listeners? Normally I asked for a nugget, like one thing, but I gotta tell you, there are so many kind of myths that we are busting here. And I think this is such an important topic. So just, guy to guy... what advice would you have to men who are listening when it comes to breast cancer and guys.
Chris Gallo: It might be a little more than one little nugget, but one, yeah. Men be aware all. And I don't know how many men you have listening, cause I'm sure your base is mostly women. But then, like I said, there's men in their life somewhere, help them be aware of it. And to the men, the groups are out there, there is support out there.
It's not as uncommon as we think it is. We're out there, your support systems are there, and we can be there. You just have to come out and talk about it. Cause there's nothing to be ashamed of.
Tammey Grable-Woodford: And don't let the pinkification keep you from getting the help that you need. I kudos to you for going through that and to your wife for so patiently standing there with you as you did, you know, that is just incredible. And I really do hope that we start seeing some change in that. And I had, I was telling you in the green room, I had a, uh, recording an episode that I did with a plastic surgeon who we were talking about aesthetic flat closure, and we were talking about male reconstruction.
And how there is still so much education that is happening there as well. And so I, you know, maybe some point October will be a little less pink and we will, we will come up with a new color for,
Chris Gallo: Yeah, well, the men male breast cancer coalition goes with the pink and blue ribbon.
Tammey Grable-Woodford: Oh, I love that.
Chris Gallo: yeah, so it's "pink and blue, men have breasts too." But yeah, it's out there.
Tammey Grable-Woodford: How did I miss that? My goodness. So I am going to make sure and link to the websites that you've mentioned. And also, I'm going to connect with you, and we'll link to the groups that are out there so that anybody who stumbles upon this can find those support groups. And I want to thank you so much for the photos, because I think it's...it's so good for all of us to be able to bond. I've posted my mastectomy photos as well at your yours looked better than mine. But hey... we were saving stuff for later work. Um, but I think it's important to see that and to know that and to be able to have that empathy and... and to take some of the unknowns out of it.
And you've really done that today for any man who's listening or any listener who has a man in their life, who's going through this, or might be going through this. To know, and to be able to see and to hear and, and see the health and vibrancy on the other side. Thank you so much for sharing your story and coming on and putting up with me through technical difficulties.
Chris Gallo: No. Thank you. Thank you for having me. Thank you for being aware about men and breast cancer and hitting the topic on your show because the more we get it out there, the better.
Tammey Grable-Woodford: Absolutely.
Chris Gallo: So thank you.
Yeah. All right. So for our listeners, thank you for joining us for another episode of Your Killer Life, make sure you like and subscribe also be sure and check out our sponsor, Riverdance Soapworks. They are amazing. I have been using their all-natural deodorants since I was diagnosed and get this, they actually work. Yeah. And all-natural products that actually works so well, Griff switched to it and stole my deodorant. So there you go.
Next time we will have another, amazing guest and another amazing episode. Thank you again. And until then, keep building Your Killer Life.
Remember the conversations you hear on the show are based on unique experiences and varying diagnosis. And we all had our own medical teams. We are not giving medical advice. So if you hear something inspiring, please talk with your providers.
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