Former Exira resident raises awareness for male breast cancer

Pat Washburn, former Exira resident, holds a photo of her husband Marlyn. Marlyn passed away in May from breast cancer, and Pat is now working to make people aware that breast cancer can strike women as well as men.

It started with a pain in the arm.

Marlyn Washburn was going to the doctor for a routine blood test for diabetes and his wife, Pat, suggested that he ask about that pain. Neither thought too much about it mostly because Marlyn was a golfer, and was often seen playing in Audubon. The pain was probably related to that, they thought.

Washburn, who worked as the Exira High School Principal from 1995 to 2000, would get unexpected bad news that day.

His blood test resulted in  more testing and ultimately a diagnosis of breast cancer.

It was a double shock, most of the people in his life, including him, didn’t know that men could get breast cancer.

“He was in education for 41 years,” Pat said. “He was a smart man.  But he had never ever been told, had never heard, had never read, and he read all the time, he had never seen anything that said men could get breast cancer.”

Marlyn maintained  a positive attitude and, like his daughter who had fought the disease and survived- he intended to fight.

“He thought he was going to be like his daughter,” Pat said noting that their daughter had breast cancer, and survived the disease.

 “If they need to take (the cancer) out, (we’ll) take it out. If I need to have chemo and radiation, we’ll do it. We’ll be fine.”

However, five months later, Marlyn passed away.

After their ordeal, Pat decided she was going to do her best to educate people about breast cancer in men, and she even created a brochure that she hands out.

“Because breast cancer in men is so seldom heard of, and because men aren’t taught to routinely check their breasts, it is possible that the breast cancer may metastasize into other organs before it is discovered. My husband’s cancer had already spread into his liver, kidneys, lungs, lymph nodes, bones and even up into his brain before we knew he was even sick,” Pat said in the brochure.

She said symptoms of breast cancer for men include: a lump or swelling, which is usually (but not always) painless, skin dimpling or puckering, nipple retraction (turning inward), redness or scaling of the nipple or breast skin or discharge from the nipple.

She also doesn’t want other families to have to go through what her family went through, adding in the brochure, “If even one family is spared the nightmare we faced with Marlyn’s breast cancer, my campaign to educate others will have been worth it.”