Parents love bonding with their children, but breast cancer was not a bond Arnaldo Silva wished to have with his daughter.
Silva and his daughter Vanessa, both Soundview natives, have both gone through breast cancer. They shared their story with a packed house at the Affinity Health offices on Friday, October 1.
The event, which fell right in with National Breast Cancer Awareness month, heightened understanding of the disease, which is generally associated with women.
“Cancer doesn’t discriminate,” Silva told the audience. “It doesn’t decide which body it’s going to go into.”
Although the disease is less common in men, it is generally more deadly because it is found later than in women.
While the disease is rare, Silva’s story is not uncommon.
While taking a shower, he felt a small lump in his right breast. He spoke to his wife, and she told him to see a doctor.
The first doctor told Silva it was nothing to be concerned about, but as the lump grew, and so did his worries.
He got a second opinion. That doctor ordered a biopsy, and then a sonogram.
“They sent me to a room with about 60 women sitting there,” he said. “They asked me, ‘Are you here for your wife?’ and I said, ‘No I’m here for me.’”
After putting on a pink gown and fielding some hostility from a nurse, Silva nearly refused to take the test.
But then he remembered his sister, who died of cancer, and his father who is now dying from the disease. He remembered how early detection and action could have saved their lives.
“The worst time in my life was waiting for that mammogram,” Silva said. “When the doctor told me I had breast cancer, I told him that he was reading the wrong sheet. ‘Men don’t get breast cancer,’ I said, but they do. It’s not a woman’s disease.”
After he tested positive, the doctor ordered tests for his whole family.
Silva said he could hear in his wife’s voice, as she spoke to their daughter Vanessa about two weeks later on the phone, that the news was bad.
She too had tested positive for breast cancer.
Silva felt worse than he did while waiting for his own mammogram results.
“I almost couldn’t live with myself,” he said. “I just kept thinking, ‘Is this the way my children are going to remember me, that I gave them this disease?’”
But his daughter had a different outlook.
“I think my father actually saved my life,” she said. “If he hadn’t been diagnosed I would not have gotten checked until I was 40 and it would have been too late.”
Over the next few years the pair got chemotherapy together, lost their hair together and survived together.
Vanessa has been in remission for about three years, but Arnaldo had his left breast removed earlier this year after another lump was found.
Although he has fought cancer twice and won, fighting the perception that breast cancer carries is another intimidating battle.
“It’s rough for a man. It’s not the same awareness,” he said. “The men that have it don’t want to talk about it. I don’t have a support group.”
Silva and his daughter are now working to organize a group called Live In Faith Everyday (or LIFE), which will raise awareness of the disease and obtain funding for cancer research.
Until it launches, Arnaldo said he will continue to teach people that breast cancer can and does affect men as well as women.
“I’ll wear the pink,” he said. “I don’t mind the color, but let’s put a little blue in there too.”