OMAHA — Marlyn Washburn didn’t believe men could get breast cancer.
Last fall, he experienced discomfort in his right shoulder and decided to get it checked out. Washburn thought the pain had something to do with his diabetes.
Tests were conducted to investigate the pain and an ultrasound revealed six lesions on his liver. Eventually, an oncologist was asked to biopsy Washburn’s breast and liver.
He had stage 4 breast cancer.
By the time Washburn was diagnosed in December, the cancer had spread to his liver, lungs, kidneys, lymph nodes and brain.
His wife, Pat, said the damage was extensive.
“They found eight tumors in his brain,” she said. “We started with radiation first. They were able to control the pain in his arm. Then we also did radiation on his brain.”
Two weeks of radiation preceded chemotherapy.
“The oncologist said as long as he wanted to take treatment, she would give it to him,” Pat said. “She hoped to give him five, possibly 10 quality years of life. Instead, he got five months. Five very difficult months.”
Marlyn passed away on May 26 at age 66.
“When Marlyn was first diagnosed he assumed his treatments would go the same way his daughter’s did,” Pat said. “They did not.”
Marlyn’s daughter, Barbara Lovercheck of Humphrey, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014. The Washburns supported her through her treatments and Lovercheck survives to this day.
“Barbara’s cancer was caught early when she went in for a mammogram," Pat said.
Since her husband’s death, Pat has been traveling the state spreading awareness about male breast cancer.
“I’m really, really passionate about this,” she said. “There are so many people who don’t know this is possible. The symptoms of breast cancer for men and women are the same. Women need to know that, too, so they can help their loved ones.”
Pat created brochures with information on male breast cancer she distributes at various events. She also made banners and designed a wrap for Marlyn’s car.
“It says ‘Breast Cancer Does Not Discriminate: Men 2,'" Pat said. “There is a ribbon that is half pink and half blue.”
Marlyn grew up in Mead, where he graduated from high school. He later attended Wayne State College to pursue a career in education. He taught in Bushnell, O’Neill and Seward and was a principal in Osmond, Neligh and Red Cloud, as well as Exira and Lawton in Iowa.
“Breast cancer doesn’t care who you are,” Pat said. “Parents need to be aware of their boys, their grandkids. There’s a lot more breast cancer in men than people realize.”