Father, Daughter Battle Breast Cancer Together

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

ByABC News
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.'"