Live for the day
Published 1:08 pm Monday, June 17, 2019
Male breast cancer survivor spreads awareness
By Olivia Mohr
Mike Davis, 59, is a husband, father and grandfather who wears pink every day.
He golfs using a pink golf driver.
On his wrist is a tattoo that reads “He>I,” which he said means he believes God is greater than him.
At Keene Run Golf Club, where he said he spends a lot of time, he wore a patterned light pink shirt and a pink rubber bracelet that read “save the tatas.”
People ask him about all of the pink, he said. “It’s about getting people to understand that guys can get breast cancer,” he said. “So, if they see me in pink, they ask.”
These days, Davis is all about spreading awareness about breast cancer.
An avid University of Kentucky basketball fan, Davis followed the UK Wildcats around the country in 2012. It was March, and he and a friend headed to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to see a game.
The night after the game, he returned home and the lump that had been on his chest for about six to nine months started to itch.
He grew up on a farm and had played football and basketball when he was younger, so he was used to getting knots on his body and didn’t think much of the lump before it started to itch.
He had also noticed he was developing a newly inverted nipple.
He didn’t know men could get breast cancer at the time, so he wasn’t aware of what his new symptoms meant.
“If I knew men could get breast cancer, I would’ve done something about it,” he said.
His wife was going to the doctor the next day, so he asked her to tell the doctor about the lump. The doctor asked to see Davis immediately, and Davis went to the doctor March 5 and via mammogram was diagnosed with stage III in situ breast cancer the same day.
He discovered that in addition to the 3-centimeter tumor on his chest, he had another lump forming under his arm. Neither of the tumors were in his lymph nodes.
He went on to have a mastectomy, four rounds of chemotherapy and 22 rounds of radiation.
He finished his last round of radiation on his 33rd wedding anniversary, July 17, 2012.
Davis’s wife, Dian, said she expected that since men and women have different bodies, doctors would have testing and mammograms catered to men with breast cancer. However, she found that wasn’t the case.
Through Mike’s experience with breast cancer, she said all of her focus was on him, not the cancer.
“I didn’t think as much about the actual cancer as I did Mike,” she said. “I was very worried about making sure he was all right and he was comfortable or calm or positive, and to tell you the truth, I didn’t even think about the cancer.”
Davis said when he got his mammogram, as much of his skin as possible was placed on the imaging machine’s support plate and compressed. It was difficult, he said, because the machine was designed for women’s breasts. However, the imaging was possible.
Davis said his only risk factor for breast cancer was that he was a bit overweight at the time. His genetic testing came back negative, so he said there wasn’t a reason he should have developed breast cancer.
According to the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, about 2,000 men are diagnosed with breast cancer every year, and men make up about one percent of breast cancer cases.
Men have breast tissue that can be susceptible to cancer cells just as women do, but breast cancer is uncommon in men because their ducts are less developed than women’s and they don’t have growth-promoting female hormones affecting their breast tissue.
Davis, who is now vice president of the board of directors of Susan G. Komen Kentucky, a nonprofit organization that funds research to prevent and cure breast cancer, said many men who get breast cancer die of it because they don’t receive a timely diagnosis because they’re often unaware men can develop breast cancer.
With Susan G. Komen Kentucky, Davis seeks to spread the word about breast cancer to not only women, but men as well.
He said 75 percent of Susan G. Komen Kentucky’s funds stay local, while 25 percent goes to Dallas, Texas, and helps fund metastatic breast cancer research.
“My goal in life — and I won’t stop at one — is just if I could save one guy,” Davis said.
Davis said he’s had male friends and acquaintances who have asked him about lumps they have noticed on their own chests or who have gotten mammograms. However, he doesn’t know any men personally who have had breast cancer, though he has talked to people who have known men who have.
Davis said his daughter, who has three children, encouraged him to get involved with Susan G. Komen for their Lexington Race for the Cure.
He said he was nervous because at the event he was surrounded by women in pink — but, he got involved with the community of survivors.
“It’s amazing how these ladies will accept me as one of them,” he said. “It’s been the coolest thing.”
He has since been on TV — WKYT’s Amber Philpott coined his nickname, “the man in pink” — and he thought of an idea to have an annual golf tournament called the Kentucky Golf Classic to Benefit Susan G. Komen, which he said has raised $60,000 in the past three years.
The fourth annual tournament will take place Oct. 7 at Champions Trace golf course.
Because his full-time job for DSM often takes him to different countries, he’s also been able to speak about breast cancer in Switzerland and the Netherlands.
“I feel like one of the reasons I was saved (is this). This is my purpose,” he said.
Davis’s wife, daughter and grandchildren help him with the golf tournament and go with him to Susan G. Komen events, including the Lexington Race for the Cure.
His daughter, Eryn Parsley, 35, said she fears she will get breast cancer but that she has had genetic testing that came back negative.
Still, she worries, and her father’s experience with breast cancer has made her more aware that she needs to perform self-examinations and visit the doctor regularly.
Since his treatment, Davis said his mentality about life has changed. Colors seem more vibrant, his faith as a Christian has increased and his relationship with his family is deeper, he said.
Though he said he worries every day his cancer could come back, he’s more at peace with that fact because of his faith because his brush with death changed his outlook on life.
“The small problems — they don’t mean anything,” he said. “Even the big problems really don’t mean anything because your outlook’s different. You have more of a positive outlook on life. Your relationships are better.”
Parsley said she has noticed a change in her father since his treatment.
“I think it’s a complete transformation,” she said. “For me, I think I compare it to the Grinch’s heart grew three sizes, and that’s basically my dad.
“I mean, he’s always been a great man, but I’ve seen more kindness in him now. His heart has just gotten so much bigger. He’s a lot more kind to everybody — to children, to people around him. I’ve seen it with my own children — the way that he’s around them and the way that he soaks up every moment, whereas before, he was a great grandfather, but now he really cherishes it.
“His faith definitely took a skyrocket, which is great because his faith increasing really has caused my husband and my children’s faith to increase, so he really caused us to want to be more like him and see things the way that he does.
“He lives for the day, and he wants to make every day count.”