Husband and Wife Raise Awareness After Both Diagnosed With Breast Cancer

Margaret and Gerard Campion work to raise awareness for male breast cancer after both husband and wife were diagnosed with the disease. PHOTO: Margaret Campion
Margaret and Gerard Campion work to raise awareness for male breast cancer after both husband and wife were diagnosed with the disease.

Gerard and Meg Campion shared their lives for decades raising two daughters in Connecticut, but the husband and wife never expected that a life spent together would also mean sharing diagnosis of breast cancer.

In 2006, Gerard Campion was diagnosed first with the disease after spotting a tiny “blister”-like bump on his chest.

“It was obviously shocking. I think my first thought was, 'he’s not supposed to have this, I am,'" Meg Campion recalled of hearing her husband’s diagnosis.

She said the reason he even went in for his first diagnosis was because a friend had been diagnosed with male breast cancer and they knew a little bit about the signs. After surgery and chemotherapy, the family thought their ordeal with cancer was over.

It wasn't.

Three years later, Meg Campion received her own diagnosis of breast cancer.

Her cancer, called ductal cell carcinoma in situ, had not spread and was able to be treated with radiation and surgery. Meg Campion said during both of these diagnosis the couple sometimes kept their emotions in check in order to be strong for the other one.

“We didn’t want to upset the other one,” she said. "You kept those emotions in check. I don’t want him to worry about me. That was the exact same thing when it was my turn.”

Following two successful bouts fighting off breast cancer, it returned in 2011, unexpectedly striking Gerard Campion rather than his wife. This time, the cancer had spread to his bones -- meaning it would be incurable.

Meg Campion said they knew after two rounds of cancer, there would be no hiding feelings from one another during the difficult period.

“He’s the first to say that the cancer patient isn’t the only one with cancer. The family has cancer, too,” she said. “People have asked us, which one is [the cancer] harder on? The both of us say the spouse. The spouse is always trying to be the strong one.”

After the second diagnosis, Gerard and Meg Campion became involved with raising awareness about male breast cancer -- even lobbying the state government to declare the third week of October Male Breast Cancer Awareness week.

"He speaks at rotary clubs and Lions clubs,” she told ABC News. “Eighty percent of men don’t realize they can contract breast cancer…If it prevents one family from losing a dad or a husband, that’s why we do it.”

Additionally, Meg Campion said she and her husband hoped that by raising awareness, doctors could address male breast cancer patients directly without relying on the same pamphlets and materials given to women.

“These men need to be respected as well,” Meg Campion said. “But when your husband is handed pamphlet that says side effects of treatment can be vaginal dryness…[and is given the same five years later] your sense of humor is not there any more.”

Overall, the couple, who are now expecting two grandchildren, say the diagnosis has been “a gift” in some ways. When the couple were invited to a wedding last year in Zurich, they found a way to attend, and even expanded the trip into a tour of Italy.

“When I said it changes you, that’s how it changes you. You just all of a sudden say, 'Why not?' We’re living our life and making memories,” Meg Campion said.