Cecil Herrin kept asking his doctor for a mammogram, but the burly construction company owner was an unlikely candidate for the breast cancer screening test.
"He said nothing was wrong with me," said Herrin, recalling his doctor's dismissal of the growing lump below his right nipple. "I knew there was something wrong."
Twelve months later, Herrin's cardiologist spotted the lump during a routine check-up.
"She said, 'You need to get a mammogram and ultrasound,'" said Herrin, who lives in Grovetown, Ga. "I said, 'I've been trying.'"
Two days after his 67th birthday, the results of the imaging tests and a biopsy were in. Herrin had breast cancer.
"I cried," he said. "It hit me so hard. That was the scariest moment in my life."
Herrin had a mastectomy, a breast-removing operation that left a long white scar where his nipple once was.
"It bothered me a lot to lose my breast," he said. "I wanted to be walking down the beach with my shirt off."
One in 1,000 men is diagnosed with breast cancer in his lifetime, according to 2012 data from the American Cancer Society. And the disease kills about one man every day in the United States.
"It's important to know that men are still at lower but measurable risk for breast cancer," said Dr. Marisa Weiss, president of Breastcancer.org. "It's not insignificant."
The lifetime risk of breast cancer in women is one in eight, but women are encouraged to check their breasts for changes and have mammograms as recommended. Men, on the other hand, often ignore the early signs of breast cancer, which include lumps in the breast, armpit or collarbone area, nipple discharge, and puckering, flaking or redness anywhere on the breast.
The American Cancer Society urges men to discuss any breast changes with their doctors. Once a breast cancer diagnosis is made, the treatments are similar for men and women and include surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. The survival rates are similar, too.
Herrin had no radiation or chemotherapy treatments after his surgery. But he does take the anti-estrogen drug tamoxifen to reduce the risk of the cancer's coming back.
"I never dreamed in a million years that I had breast cancer… There's not any cancer in my family," said Herrin, who has become an advocate for male breast cancer awareness.
"You need to go to a doctor," he said of men who ignore the signs. "You need to get checked. Because women are not the only ones who get breast cancer."