Father, Daughter Battle Breast Cancer Together

Combating the disease together, the two experienced stronger and deeper bond.

ByJohn Mckenzie
October 15, 2008, 6:41 PM

Oct. 16, 2008 — -- To his friends and family, 58-year-old Arnaldo Silva, a native New Yorker, is about as rugged as they come -- certainly not someone to be concerned about a little "lump" he felt on his chest. Even his doctor dismissed it as nothing more than "fatty tissue."

"OK. I just figured, 'fatty tissue,' nothing to worry about," Silva said.

But when that so-called "fatty tissue" kept growing, Silva visited a second doctor in December 2006. The images, and the biopsy, told a very different story: Silva had breast cancer.

"Breast cancer in men? Men have cancer? We have no breasts," Silva said, in disbelief at his diagnosis. "That's the way I took it. I have no breasts."

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Dr. Sharon Rosenbaum Smith, a breast surgeon at St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital, said that's a common misconception.

"It doesn't matter how skinny you are. It doesn't matter how heavy you are," Smith said. "All men have breast tissue and can develop a breast cancer."

About 1,800 American men each year are diagnosed with breast cancer, but they often feel "stigmatized."

"You feel taboo. You can't talk about it. People go, 'You got breast cancer? That's a woman's disease,'" Silva said. "You hear that enough times and you know what, let me just keep quiet."

But the nightmare was just beginning. Silva received the results of a blood test, which showed that he carried a specific "gene" for an aggressive form of breast cancer.

Upon hearing this news, his 32-year-old daughter, Vanessa Silva, was screened in May 2007. As they feared, she too had breast cancer.

"I just kept on going, 'Oh, my goodness, I have cancer,'" she said.

Silva was filled with fear and guilt.

"I'm crying like a baby," Silva said. "I was taking blame. I was saying, 'I passed this on to my daughter.'"

Within days, both father and daughter had surgery to remove their breast cancers. Then, they started chemotherapy together.

"No one really understands what I'm going through but my Dad," Vanessa Silva said. "Because he was feeling the same way."

"We were the rock stars of the hospital. Father and daughter. We never had this before," Silva said.

Vanessa Silva completed her treatment in December 2007, and her father finished the next month. Today both father and daughter are screened every three months, and they remain cancer free.

"I think this made us closer," Vanessa Silva said. "Now we have this bond because we both had breast cancer. We both have been through it. We both beat it."

Combating the disease together, they say their father-daughter bond grew stronger and deeper.

"She's my daughter. I love her to death," Silva said. "But she's my friend now -- a very close friend."

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