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How one woman raised awareness for male breast cancer

It’s 1983 and Marian Wrightington is enjoying her 20-year reunion at Mansfield High School.

She was catching up with friends when she spotted a classmate who had just returned from Florida.

Wrightington was surprised to see the man and told him that he looked well, but what the man told her and the rest of his peers was even more surprising—he had breast cancer.

Wrightington was shocked. She said she had no idea that men could get breast cancer.

She was even more shocked when she learned months later that this man had passed away.

“It was the first time I heard about it,” Wrightington said. “He looked very healthy.”

The whole story seemed unbelievable to Wrightington, that something so rare could happen.

Then, in 2015, Wrightington’s husband Don was diagnosed with breast cancer. 

“You have to be checked”

Wrightington, who now lives in Attleboro and serves as chair of the city’s historical commission, said her suspicions of her husband having breast cancer began in the summer of 1999.

During a vacation to Cape Cod, Wrightington’s husband noticed that one of his mamillas was turning inward—a sign of breast cancer in both men and women. Thinking back to her classmate, Wrightington implored her husband to have an examination as soon as possible.

“You have to be checked,” Wrightington said to him. “Being a guy, he said, “Well, my physical is next month, I’ll ask then.””

Don went to the doctor, but later told his wife that he had forgotten to bring up the subject. Wrightington insisted that they found out and told the doctor during her physical about her husband’s inward nipple.

After having a mammogram and needle biopsy in November and a mastectomy in January, doctors found that nothing has spread to the lymph nodes in his armpit. Fifteen years later, a tumor was found in his armpit, which was surgically removed and treated with radiation. Wrightington said her family was worried about Don’s health.

“Everyone panicked,” Wrightington said. “I was emphatic that he got that lump checked out to see if it was cancer. I was right.”

While Don Wrightington is now cancer-free, the experience left Marian wanting to do more to raise awareness about men’s breast cancer.

You may have just saved a life”

Ever since her husband’s treatment, Wrightington has been participating in events to talk about male breast cancer and the risks it poses.

She was part of the Attleboro Public Library “Slam Cancer” initiative, where she and other residents shared stories, poems and essays about their experiences with cancer. She also participated in the Relay for Life, a charity walk launched by the American Cancer Society.

During Breast Cancer Awareness Month, recognized in October, Wrightington wears a special pin that she made herself. The pin consists of a pink ribbon and a blue male symbol to reference the men diagnosed with breast cancer.

Wrightington said people would frequently ask her about the pin and she would tell the story of her classmate and husband. When she worked as a lunch lady, children would inquire about the pin and its meaning.

“I started wearing the pins in 2015,” Wrightington said. “I wore them every day in October.”

As years have gone by, however, fewer people have asked her about the pin. Wrightington, however, sees this as a good thing. She believes that if fewer people ask, then they know about the reality of men’s breast cancer.

“If not one person asks me about it this year, I’ll stop wearing it,” Wrightington isaid. “That doesn’t mean I’ll stop talking about the story, though.”

According to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, about one out of 833 develop breast cancer. In comparison, one out of every eight women is diagnosed with breast cancer.

Despite those statistics, men diagnosed with breast cancer face the same symptoms and risks as women, including blocked blood vessels, fractures in bones, and additional tumors in areas such as the liver, lungs, and brain.

“One person I talked to told me, “You might have saved my life,”” Wrightington said. “Men can have breast cancer.”

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