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.