NEW ORLEANS – When most people picture breast cancer survivors, they may not be like Dwight Deal, a former football player, homicide detective, and a man.
Now the survivor, who used to protect people from crime, is hoping to protect your health.
Deal, 60, is a former NOPD officer and Army recruiter. He is used to facing fear head on.
"When the crowd is running this way because the danger is that way and the cops are running that way, you have to condition yourself,” he explained. “You can't show the vulnerability because people are depending on you.”
However, this past summer challenged him. There was a mass in his neck and a lump in his breast. Doctors said if it was the same cancer that had spread, the outcome would be grim, but if it was two completely different cancers, his survival looked good. He had to wait days for the diagnosis. He never dreamed he'd have a spiritual conversation like the one he had.
"When you're saying your prayers to The Almighty, you're saying, 'God, please give me two forms of cancer.' I might tell you I termed that weekend as the longest six months of my life," he said about waiting for the final diagnosis.
It was two separate cancers. His type of neck cancer is becoming more common in baby boomers from HPV, and his breast cancer was from a mutation in the BRCA2 gene. At first, he didn't want to share his diagnosis.
"It was the thought of breast cancer, the stigma attached, you know, the affront to your machismo, your ego," he said.
His breast oncologist at Ochsner said she's seen that before.
"I do think it takes them a little while to wrap their brain around it because they just think men aren't supposed to get breast cancer," explained Dr. Aimee Mackey, an Ochsner Breast Surgical Oncologist.
Deal had surgery to remove his tonsils, the tumor in his neck and the lump in his breast. Now, his outlook on educating other men has changed.
"I've talked to hundreds, and I literally mean hundreds of people, men in particular, who said that, 'I wouldn't want to know.' Breast cancer is a hell of a lot better proposition than death," said Deal.
For many years, Deal joined in the Komen Pink Walks even though he didn't know anyone with breast cancer. He never knew it would be him one day. Now, he calls himself the town crier for male breast cancer.
"I was spared for some reason. There's a message here, somewhere."
Deal added he’s not worried about his scars.
"My wet t-shirt days have been over a long time," laughed Deal.
Dr. Mackey said males and females of relatives with a genetic type of breast cancer should get genetic testing. Deal's mother had the gene mutation and passed away from ovarian cancer, but his sister and daughter do not have the mutation.
The mutation puts anyone at higher risk of ovarian or prostate cancer, breast and pancreatic cancers, and melanoma of the skin.
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