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Male breast cancer survivor defies the odds

Mike Jaquays
Staff writer
Posted 10/8/22

Cancer has no discrimination against anyone or anything, says Bernie Szczesniak. He knows this for a fact - Szczesniak is a male breast cancer survivor.

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Male breast cancer survivor defies the odds


ROME — Cancer has no discrimination against anyone or anything, says Bernie Szczesniak. He knows this for a fact - Szczesniak is a male breast cancer survivor.

Szczesniak said he first became aware that something was wrong by accident. He recalled that he was doing some work in his bathroom at home back in 2005 when his chest touched against the sink. He remembered that the pain was excruciating and shocking.

Initially, his doctor didn’t figure it was anything serious, as men traditionally did not see breast cancer diagnoses. But then a mammogram revealed the truth. Szczesniak had a tumor hidden directly behind his right nipple where he couldn’t feel it ... at least until he bumped it and then he definitely knew something was there.

He had a biopsy, and before going to hear the results, was told to bring someone along with him to the appointment to hear the news — an ominous sign. Szczesniak and his wife Jackie, were told the biopsy tested positive and he had Stage 2 breast cancer.

“I was dumbfounded,” he admitted. “But once we found out, we jumped right on it.”

Within three months of the painful discovery of his tumor, Szczesniak had his right breast along with 13 lymph nodes removed. Of them, two were found to be cancerous. He had eight chemotherapy treatments but no radiation. He was also on the anti-cancer drug Tamoxifen for five years and still has regular mammograms once a year.

According to the American Cancer Society, women are about 100 times more likely to get breast cancer than men. In the United States this year, the ACS estimates there will be around 2,710 new cases of invasive breast cancer diagnosed in men and about 530 men will die from the disease. In comparison, there are expected to be around 287,850 new cases of invasive breast cancer and about 51,400 new cases of intraductal carcinoma in women, and about 43,250 women will die from breast cancer this year.

The ACS also notes the lifetime risk for a man of getting breast cancer is about 1 in 833, compared to 1 in 8 for women.

Men with breast cancer will have symptoms similar to women. Possible signs of breast cancer include:

skin dimpling or puckering

a lump or swelling, which is usually but not always painless

nipple retraction

redness or scaling of the nipple or breast skin

discharge from the nipple, which may be clear or blood-tinged

There is extensive information and resources available on male breast cancer on the ACS website at

Szczesniak now uses his own experiences in advocacy for others. One of his recent outreaches for cancer patients and their loved ones is leading a fundraising group for the American Cancer Society.

He is the captain of the Nettie’s Guys & Gals team, which joined more than 50 other regional teams on Sept. 17 at the day-long Relay for Life of Central New York event at Delta Lake State Park in Rome. The team is named in honor of Antoinette “Nettie” D’Arrigo, one of the original Relay participants who passed away in 2006 at the age of 78.

Donations can still be made to the team by visiting

Szczesniak suggests that men take their wives or girlfriends to have a mammogram and take them out for a nice meal afterwards.

“I feel their pain,” he said. “My mammograms are just like what women go through.”


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