Wife's Warning to All Men After Husband's Death: 'Male Breast Cancer Is Real & It's Deadly'

Tammy Porter

Tammy Porter and her husband Mike pose for the camera.
Tammy Porter

When we think about breast cancer, we tend to think about one thing, without even realizing it: women. We see images of women, both old and young, walking in pink shirts with pink ribbons, giving reminders about self-exams in the shower, and talking about their mothers, aunts, sisters, or daughters who either lost or survived the terrible disease. What we don't tend to hear about, though, are the breast cancer stories that get lost in the cracks: the ones that happen to men. Although breast cancer rates among males are extremely rare (just 1 percent, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation), they do happen. And they happen to men such as Tammy Porter's husband, Mike.

  • Mike lost his battle with breast cancer on May 14, 2018, -- just two days shy of his 49th birthday.

    Exactly one year later, Tammy sat down to pen his story in an essay for HuffPost, in hopes of both educating others and celebrating his life.

    And boy, what a life it was. One that actually cheated death more times than seemed possible.

    "[He] had nine lives, or so it seemed," wrote Tammy in her essay, which is touching hearts across the Internet. "When we met, he told me of the numerous near-death experiences he had survived over the years -- too many details to list -- with the most noteworthy a result of a viral infection that led to a heart transplant at 35. He was a walking miracle."

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  • The couple met at a bar in Los Angeles back in 2011, and from Day 1, Tammy says she knew: "He was my person."

    Yet just five weeks into dating, Mike suffered a life-threatening cardiac arrest.

    "As I desperately called 911 to get him help, he stopped breathing," wrote Tammy. "For 11 minutes, I performed CPR until the swarm of paramedics arrived. It was almost certain that he had been without oxygen to his brain for too long." 

    Once they reached the ER, doctors told her he would likely suffer severe brain damage -- if he were even to survive at all.

    But their predictions would prove wrong.

    "In true Mike form," she continued, "he surprised the entire medical community and walked away from the cardiac intensive care unit two weeks later -- all faculties intact."

  • They married a year later, and according to Tammy, "vowed to make the most of every day together." 

    "His heart was damaged and he was in need of a second heart transplant," she wrote, "but we had faith that it would come. Just like every other obstacle he had overcome, he would surely win again."

  • Except that one day, from out of left field, came a new diagnosis neither of them were expecting: breast cancer.

    Mike had noticed a dime-sized lump on his chest one day but had been convinced it was nothing more than a cyst. And so, like many people unaware of the risks, he put off getting it checked -- for months.

    After years of being focused on Mike's health and second heart transplant status, hearing the word "cancer" left the couple stunned.

    "We were constantly meeting with doctors and routinely blood testing, etc.," Tammy tells CafeMom. And yet, "Cancer was something that honestly never crossed our minds."

    Especially male breast cancer -- something that affects such a small percentage of the population.

  • "As far as male breast cancer, specifically, so much of it was surprising," Tammy says.

    A door to a mammogram department reads
    Tammy Porter

    "Learning that the cancer was hormone receptor positive and fueled by estrogen was hard to wrap my brain around," she continues. "I just don’t mentally associate estrogen with men (even though I know they technically do have estrogen present)."

    She says that as Mike's treatment progressed, she began to learn more about just how underrepresented men truly are, not only in breast cancer research but also in the medical community, and it was "quite surprising."

    "Mammograms were done behind doors with signs boldly exclaiming 'WOMEN ONLY,'" Tammy wrote. "Getting approvals for necessary tests and medications took inordinate amounts of time and effort, followed by repeated appeals, as the insurance companies simply didn’t approve them for men, despite the breast cancer diagnosis."

    It was disheartening and even emasculating, Tammy shared, and through it all, her heart "hurt for him." She says it felt as if everything having to do with breast cancer was wrapped in pink, which only made processing things harder. "Coming to terms with the cancer was difficult enough, but the ostracizing sea of pink ribbons and pink hospital gowns and hard to acquire treatments only added to the emasculating nature of being a man with breast cancer," she wrote.

  • Tammy was also alarmed to learn that Mike's organ transplant could have actually increased his cancer risk.

    In fact, according to research, organ transplant recipients are actually two times more likely to develop cancer in their lifetimes.

    "I put all emotion aside and went into extreme survival mode," Tammy shared in her essay. "I was the dutiful wife, turned de facto nurse, who made sure he never missed an appointment nor had any medical misstep. We were going to beat this, and just like every other challenge, Mike faced this one head-on with absolute optimism."

    Facing things head-on meant a radical mastectomy of Mike's left breast in January 2016 and removing all of the lymph nodes under his left arm, after the cancer spread further. 

    It was a relentless battle, but one they fought with every ounce of strength they had.

  • Two years later -- just after their sixth wedding anniversary -- Mike would eventually lose his battle.

    Mike Porter poses by himself in the sunset on a beach.
    Tammy Porter

    As Mike's cancer progressed throughout his body, he and Tammy tried to appreciate every second they had left together. But unfortunately it wasn't nearly enough and as she shared in her essay, she's been left with regret.

    "I have learned firsthand that male breast cancer is real, and it is deadly. Though it is rarer for men, it’s more likely to occur at a more advanced stage of diagnosis for men than women. Survival rates are also lower for men than women. I am certain that if I had known more about breast cancer in men, I would have been more determined to push Mike to see the doctor." 

    She hopes that in sharing his story, she can help spread awareness to both men and women that even breast cancer does not discriminate.

    "Mike and I always planned to share his story," she tells CafeMom. "He had many unique experiences and we often discussed how sharing his story might benefit others." 

    Ultimately, putting pen to paper was cathartic, Tammy says, but she has so much more to share, which is why she's working on a book about Mike's story.

  • As her HuffPost essay continues to be shared across the Internet, both men and women are thanking her for telling a story we don't often hear.

    "Really touching," wrote one man on Facebook, "just a reminder that life is fragile and living should be one step at a time."

    "A beautiful and tragic love story," wrote one woman, as countless others chimed in that they're praying for Tammy and her family.

  • Tammy says Mike's diagnosis and eventual passing definitely changed her -- but she is stronger for it.

    Tammy Porter poses with her husband Mike on the beach.
    Tammy Porter

    "I have always been a planner and a control freak," she tells CafeMom. "I suffered from anxiety and depression, always worrying about my place in the world, what was to come, getting it 'right.'  [But] Mike’s diagnosis was pivotal for me. I spent much more time in the present and finding appreciation in my daily life with Mike and less worrying about the outcome of his diagnosis or a future without him." 

    In the year since his passing, she says she has a newfound motivation for "living a life with passion and intention," and says Mike was an incredible example of what that looked like. 

    "I want to live the life that he would have wanted for me," she says, "(and that he would be living if he were still here)."