Male breast cancer survivor primed for fashion runway
FRANKLIN, Ind. (AP) — Eric Passmore is a beefy, 62-year-old father, grandfather and retired machinist. He’s also a breast cancer survivor.
If you’re a guy, let that last sentence sink in.
Passmore found a lump in his right breast in 2016. When his doctor told him to go in for a mammogram, he said, “I’m a guy. You realize that, right?”
He laughs about it now and likes to say that he was the only man in the Breast Care Center who wasn’t waiting for his wife.
The breast exam revealed a tumor three-fourths of an inch in size above the nipple that was later found to be cancerous.
“Not in my wildest dreams would I have thought I had breast cancer.”
Nor would he have thought he’d ever be modeling in a fashion show, but more about that in a minute.
Passmore underwent a mastectomy and is among the small percentage of men diagnosed with breast cancer each year. Less than 1 percent of all breast cancer cases develop in men, and only 1 in 1,000 men will ever be diagnosed with the disease. The American Cancer Society estimates 2,550 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in men in 2018. About 480 men will die from the disease this year.
The Franklin resident knows all of this now, but at the time, he had a hard time wrapping his head around it. So did his partner of 10 years, Paula Koneda. Cancer in any form scared her. She had already lost several family members to the disease.
“I panicked at first,” she said. “That’s just the way I am.”
Passmore, on the other hand, didn’t know of any cancer in his family. When he told his mother and his two sisters — all nurses — that he had breast cancer, they assured him that, yes, it does occur in men, but his was caught early, so the odds were good that he would have a complete recovery.
“This happened all in three weeks,” he said. “From ‘I’ve got a lump,’ to ‘I’m in surgery,’ to ‘now I’ve got no boob.’ ”
But there was another wrinkle. Eighteen years ago, he underwent a liver transplant that saved his life. So while his oncologist, Dr. Kathy Miller with Indiana University Health, had treated men with breast cancer, treating one who’d also had an organ transplant presented special challenges.
Though it would have been a bigger challenge to treat Passmore before his transplant, she said, when he had severe cirrhosis, because the cancer-fighting drugs require the liver to metabolize them to get them out of the body.
“It also means his liver is very precious, so we want to make certain that we’re not causing damage,” she said.
Treatment required a delicate balance of chemotherapy to kill any remaining cancer cells and immunosuppressant therapy to lower his body’s ability to reject his liver.
“I’m just an oddity,” Passmore said.
And things for him are about to get weirder. Passmore, a 6-foot, 220-pound part-time cellphone salesman at Walmart who likes to cut his grass, swim and walk his dogs, Desi and Penelope, will be modeling in the Pink Ribbon Connection Stars of Pink Fashion Show on Oct. 13 at the Indianapolis Marriott Downtown. For good luck, he’s bringing Koneda to walk the runway with him.
He’s already sent invitations to friends and family with the following addendum: “Please come and watch me fall down on the red carpet.”
The pair will model two outfits each, one casual and one dressy. “That gives me two chances to fall down,” he said. “I am the least graceful person you will meet.”
He’s willing to risk embarrassment, he said, because it’s a cause he believes in.
“I try to be a good sport because it is for a good cause. I feel like, with the extra chance I have been given, I need to try and give back whenever I can.”
Dori Sparks-Unsworth, executive director of Pink Ribbon Connection, which provides free programming and support services for breast cancer patients, said Passmore’s participation in the show is critical to spreading the message that men can and do get breast cancer.
“We’ve had male survivors on the runway before, and they’re so uncomfortable, but they just have fun with it,” she said. “And Eric is really funny; I think he’s going to have a blast up there. And he’s not going to fall.”
Miller agrees but said she told him if it happens, “You’ll fall with great style.”
Each year, the fashion show raises about $100,000, which allows the nonprofit to provide all of its services free, Sparks-Unsworth said.
Despite his protests about fashion, there is one thing about his appearance that matters to Passmore.
It’s his hair. He loves it, and he was deathly afraid of losing it during treatment.
“I grew up in the ’70s. I was a hippie,” he said, describing how his dark, curly hair fell to his shoulders when he was a young man.
Three weeks into chemo, the first large tuft of hair came out. “That depressed me more than anything,” he said.
His doctor had no sympathy for his vanity. “That’s a short-term problem,” she said. “We have longer-term goals.” Losing his hair for a few months is a small price to pay for his health, she told him.
Today, he sports a full head of hair again, though the curl is gone. But so is the cancer. He gets a mammogram twice a year.
And he’s not shy about telling friends and strangers that, yes, guys get breast cancer.
It’s a message men need to hear, Miller said.
“Because it’s uncommon and it’s not something they think about, men tend to be diagnosed later with larger tumors and more advanced disease,” she said.
So while regular screenings aren’t generally necessary, men who notice a change in the area of the nipple or a discharge should see a doctor, Miller said. “That’s abnormal, and it’s a potential problem.”
Passmore speaks to high school students about organ donation several times a year as an advocate for Indiana Donor Network. He does it to honor the memory of a 14-year-old girl who saved his life. Beth Underwood died in a car accident, but she was an organ donor whose liver went to him. For years, he’s had the same license plate on his car. It reads “4 BETH.”
“Everything I do is for her and because of her.”
Those school assemblies are also the perfect opportunity to educate young men about breast cancer.
“Most of them have the same reaction — guys can’t get it,” he said. His response: “I can show you a scar that says you can.”
Source: The Indianapolis Star
Information from: The Indianapolis Star, http://www.indystar.com