Friends For Life: Fighting A Rare Cancer

(WLNS) – Our special Friends For Life series focusing on men’s health continues Tuesday.

We’re looking at a disease that we hear about, talk about and raise money for, but with a slightly varied twist.

6 News’ Norm Stangland talked to a man who was shocked, as was his doctor, when he received his cancer diagnosis eight years ago.

The first thing Mark Burgett said when 6 News contacted him initially was, “I would love to tell my story and get it out there.” He is anxious to help men. This story is a little unusual, very personal and frankly, I wasn’t sure how someone would react to putting it on television.

Today Mark Burgett is strong, robust and looks pretty much like any other guy.

“’Cause I’m good,” said Mark Burgett, breast cancer survivor.

Reporter: “Golf game’s okay?”
Burgett: “Ahh, I could use a little help (chuckles).”

It was during a round of golf in 2008, just about a month before his 49th birthday, when Burgett noticed something on his shirt. He thought he had been a bit of a klutz and spilled something, but it wasn’t that simple, far from it.

He hadn’t been ill, had no reason to think something wasn’t right and he never expected the news he received.

“You know, you’re a man and you’re getting the news that you have breast cancer,” said Burgett.

Breast cancer, it even surprised his doctor.

“He was very much surprised, ‘cause it is just very rare in men under 50 years old,” said Burgett.

Male breast cancer, 2,300 new cases will be diagnosed in this country this year.

The American Cancer Society says 440 men will die from the disease. It’s 100 times less likely to occur in men than women. Only one man out of 1000 will contract breast cancer.

Burgett’s illness set off the usual emotions with a cancer diagnosis. Then came the same treatment that women who suffer from breast cancer go through.

“Exactly the same, I had a mastectomy, I had the chemotherapy, the same chemotherapy they give a woman.”

Burgett was active, otherwise in good shape, had a positive outlook and even took it head-on as this was something he had to go through to get well; it wasn’t an end of life approach.

When Burgett and his wife Molly went to the doctor for appointments and treatments for his breast cancer, those in the waiting room thought he was along to support her. It was Molly supporting him.

Reporter: “But, we’re men. We’re tough, we think we can stick it out. We balk at going to doctors, we wrestle bears, we cut down trees, we go hunting. But when it comes to side effects, it shouldn’t be any problem in handling that, right?”

“That’s where I became the male, where I thought, well no I won’t have any side effects, I’ll be okay, I won’t have to do that. Well, I had every one of them (chuckles),” said Burgett.

Burgett lost his hair. He was alarmed when nurses had to dress in haz-mat suits to administer the drugs he was going to receive, but, he saw others in worse condition.

“It was hard to sit there in a chair and watch other people going through this, who were sicker than I was, having to go through that.”

Then there was a recurrence, more surgery and then, the unimaginable. Burgett and his wife Molly’s daughter Alex was killed when her car was hit by a distracted driver. She was a senior at Western Michigan, within weeks of graduating.

Just a short time before, and because of Burgett’s breast cancer while on a car ride to one of his appointments, Burgett and his daughter Alex had talked about being organ donors.

“Having that conversation, we knew what to do for her, and she did donate her organs,” said Burgett.

Burgett is still taking medicine for the disease and will for a few more years. They did some genetic testing, and found that the same gene Burgett has could be passed along to his children, just as happens with women.

As for men, Burgett has the same advice we hear time, and time again.

“Check themselves just like they would for testicular cancer, whatever they should always just be checking their bodies, be aware of any changes in their bodies and go have them checked.”

We welcome thoughts and comments from our viewers. We ask that everyone keep their remarks civil and respectful. Postings that contain profanity, racist, or potentially libelous remarks will be deleted. We will delete any commercial postings, as well.

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