Rivera’s cancer was discovered when he was in the army back in the early 1970s. During a physical, a physician noted fluid oozing from his left nipple, something Rivera had ignored for weeks. “I thought it was from working out,” he recalls.
Tests confirmed the doctor’s suspicions and he underwent a mastectomy of his left breast. The only person he told about his ordeal was a military chaplain.
“I didn’t know any men with breast cancer,” he says.
Later, however, when he became the health surrogate for his grandfather, he realized his grandfather had had a double mastectomy, a fact no one in his family ever discussed. Yet, even that nugget of information did not prompt Rivera to return to an oncologist for follow-ups.
It wasn’t until he met his wife Rebecca in 2006 that he agreed to get a thorough check-up. At the time, both were cancer free, and she urged him to join the campaign to raise awareness.
“I told him, ‘This is something you have to talk about. You need to speak up,’” she says. “There are probably men out there who have felt something weird in a breast and don’t know about male breast cancer.”
Rebecca, 41, found a lump in her left breast about nine years ago, when her son, Seth Read, was only 4 months old. A mastectomy and chemotherapy followed. Though Rivera has a clean bill of health, Rebecca’s cancer has returned and this time with a vengeance. It had spread to her lung, sternum and right shoulder. After radiation and cyber-knife surgery, she is now participating in a clinical trial.
The Riveras say they keep their spirits up in spite of the sometimes devastating side effects of treatment.
“We don’t get angry. We don’t blame the world or anything,” Rivera says. “We take one day at a time.”