Saving Jack.

“Can men get breast cancer?”

Shown is a drawing of a breast duct containing...

Drawing of a breast duct containing ductal carcinoma in situ. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That is the question Jack Willis, journalist and professor, asked his wife when he felt a lump in his breast, after casually brushing it in the shower.

Though breast cancer is uncommon among men, it is possible.

Willis had invasive ductal carcinoma.

Willis’ doctor wrote in the Forword to the book, Saving Jack: A Man’s Struggle with Breast Cancer, that there would be an estimated 2,000 men that year with breast cancer, of whom 450 would be told it had spread.

The book was published in 2008, three years after Willis’ February 2005 diagnosis and a mastectomy, and chemotherapy and radiation treatments that lasted through September 2005.

In 2008, 210,203 women were diagnosed with breast cancer.

40,589 women died of breast cancer that year.

Fewer than one in 100 cases of breast cancer is a man.

Most commonly it is diagnosed in men between 60 and 70.

Willis had a family history of cancer.

Most people assume breast cancer is a woman’s disease and it largely is.

Willis was at first offended by those who assumed it would be easier for him than for a woman, whose self-identity is inextricably linked to her breasts.

But, he came to understand that, indeed, it was different for him.

Willis didn’t think of himself as having breast cancer.

He just had cancer, with all that that implies.

The fear is the same.

The surgery, chemotherapy and radiation and their side effects are the same.

Except a scar on your chest, is just a scar, not a cause for reconstructive surgery and nipple tattoos.

The importance of the support of his wife and family were the same.

The Mental Game

“Music – any kind of beautiful music – could touch me when I felt good and when I didn’t it could crash me.”

“We didn’t experience any emotional revelations or learn anything that someone else hadn’t already learned….We felt what people who are scared feel.”

“I sensed a need for more spiritual help. I didn’t usually gratuitously ask God into my life, but when I was in trouble, when I did ask, He answered.”

Formerly in the Air Force, “military discipline gave me a survival attitude, a suck-it-up mentality, a deal-with-it confidence. When life got tough, I knew I could handle it.”

“I had the disease. I couldn’t reverse the diagnosis. I was backed into a corner, and the only thing I could do was fight – and pray. And I did.”

“To fight cancer, I thought it was even more important that I thanked God every day.”

“I found writing [a journal] very personal and therapeutic…I could say things… that I couldn’t say to [my wife and daughter] or to anyone else. I could say what I was thinking.”

What Helped

  • Exercise
  • Giving in to the need to sleep
  • His job
  • Journaling
  • Positive attitude about the outcome
  • Trust in his doctors.

New Vocabulary

Sentinel node – the first lymph node into which a tumor drains and the one most likely to contain tumor cells.

A surgeon will check it.

If clear of tumor cells, lymph nodes likely will not have to be removed.

Recommended Resources

Where Is He Now?

Willis retired as Adjunct Professor of Journalism at the University of Oklahoma in 2007.

He is now an adjunct instructor and lecturer at Oklahoma State University, teaching public affairs reporting.

If you or someone you know has breast cancer, Saving Jack will help them understand the journey.

Order Saving Jack by from amazon by clicking on the title.


Carol Covin, Granny-Guru

Author, “Who Gets to Name Grandma? The Wisdom of Mothers and Grandmothers

Related posts



Enhanced by Zemanta