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Survivors reconnect at reunion

Oct. 08, 2012 @ 12:20 AM

HUNTINGTON -- One year ago, Jack Cappellari never thought he would be giving the keynote speech to a room full of mostly women during St. Mary's Medical Center's breast cancer survivor reunion.

"I know my story's a lot different than you gals in here," said Cappellari Sunday afternoon, addressing a crowd of about 50 gathered in the St. Mary's Outpatient Center. "I never expected nor wanted to be a part of this club, but the fact is I'm in it now, and I want to maintain my membership."

The survivor reunion, now in its 15th year, continued a series of events throughout the Tri-State to celebrate Breast Cancer Awareness Month. But Sunday's reunion may be the only one that focused on breast cancer from a male's perspective, said Anne Hammack, clinical manager of the Breast Center at St. Mary's.

With one out of every eight women now diagnosed with breast cancer, there is little attention paid to a smaller percentage of men who are diagnosed with the disease, Hammack said.

"We just wanted to shed exposure on this disease from a man's point of view with the hope that it will take away some of the awkwardness for men and encourage them to schedule an appointment if they have a concern."

That's exactly what Cappellari did last January after feeling tenderness and swelling in his chest. He had felt similar discomfort five years earlier, although it turned out to be nothing.

"From the Thursday I called to schedule an appointment to my appointment that following Monday, the tenderness and swelling had gone away," Cappellari said. "Had I been all macho about it, I would have said, 'Well, heck with that, man. Why do I need to bother?' "

Cappellari went to his appointment, though, and three weeks later discovered he had breast cancer. Cappellari recalls looking out the window of the exam room moments after being told he had breast cancer and seeing the Grim Reaper. He also began to think about how his wife's life would change if he died.

"These things happen, and you never know it's coming," said Cappellari, who coped with the disease by refusing to be bitter and praying every night for God to give him strength.

Cappellari is one of three male patients who have gone through the Breast Center in its nine years in existence, Hammack said.

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