Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of articles for breast cancer awareness month.
Cecil Herrin knew something wasn’t right.
In 2011, he found a small lump near his nipple and asked his doctor about it. His doctor told him there was nothing to worry about.
“Three months later, it was larger, and there was some pain,” said Herrin.
Again, the male physician told him not to worry, but Herrin didn’t take that for an answer. He’d had two massive heart attacks and learned to listen to the signs in his body that signaled something was wrong. He went to a female doctor who suggested he have a mammogram.
On Jan. 3, 2012, Herrin learned the news that he had breast cancer. Fortunately, it was small, a stage one tumor. He had a mastectomy, but he didn’t need chemotherapy or radiation. He spent several years on the drug tamoxifen and is looking forward to his 10th anniversary of being cancer free.
Earlier this year, the American Cancer Society projected that 2,650 cases of breast cancer in men would be diagnosed and that 520 men would die from it. Whereas one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime, one in 833 men will be diagnosed.
“Typically, men find a lump and go to their doctor,” said Melissa Manley, University Hospital’s Breast Health Services and Survivorship manager. “Men tend to delay seeking treatment because they think they’ve pulled a muscle and don’t expect to get a diagnosis of breast cancer. It’s seen by many as a women’s disease.”
Herrin said he was shocked when it learned he had breast cancer. He didn’t think it was something he could get.
“I cried,” he said.
Pam Anderson, a registered nurse who helped found University Hospital’s breast health center, urged Herrin to get involved with other breast cancer patients. For more than six years, Herrin was a member of the Pink Magnolias breast cancer support group.
The Grovetown man said he felt a little awkward at first, but the other members welcomed him. Some of the women said they’d always wanted a brother, and they felt like he was one.
Being part of the group fueled his desire to help those going through breast cancer.
While he was still under the effects of anesthesia from his surgery, Anderson asked for Herrin’s help. At the time, there was a calendar featuring breast cancer survivors. Anderson said she’d never had a man in the calendar, and she also wanted him to be in a fashion show she did.
He agreed, and a few months later, Anderson came to collect on his promise.
Even though he didn’t remember any of it, he came through and wore his first pink tutu in support of the cause.
Herrin doesn’t mind wearing pink. He doesn’t mind sharing his story. In fact, he believes that it’s his duty to share his journey with others.
“I have a passion to help someone I may never know,” he said.
Herrin said he has the gift of gab. He shares his story through speeches but also one-on-one when he meets someone. He knows that it’s saved lives.
He’s heard stories of women pushing their husbands to see a doctor about a suspicious lump after hearing Herrin speak. Women have said they’ve gone to get mammograms for themselves after hearing him as well.
Not only does he bring awareness of male breast cancer, he also puts his money where his mouth is.
For years, he participated in University Health Care Foundation’s Miracle Mile walk.
But he wanted to do more to raise awareness of cancer in men including breast and prostate cancers. He’s created an endowment to help men who are receiving treatment for cancer. The Cecil Herrin Men’s Cancer Fund and Endowment at the Georgia Cancer Center has provided different types of assistance such as lodging, food and transportation over the years. Right now, Herrin said, the major focus is on fuel costs of men having to travel to get their cancer treatment.
Among the fundraisers he has put on include a basketball game between the Harlem Legends, a professional basketball team founded by a former Harlem Globetrotter, and the Cecil Herrin Cancer Warriors.
Herrin hosted the basketball game for a couple of years as well as raffles, charity walks and soliciting donations. His efforts have raised more than $800,000 for the endowment.
His efforts gained the attention of former Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal who honored him in a ceremony proclaiming June as men’s breast and prostate cancer awareness month. He also received the 2015 National Jefferson Award for Community Service.
Herrin had to take about a year off from his fundraising efforts. In June 2020, he had a pain in his side and thought the breast cancer had returned. He also complained of dizziness, which ended up being caused by a brain aneurism. He had surgery, but doctors advised him to pull back some to take care of his health.
To contribute to his endowment, visit augusta.edu/giving/cecilherrinfunds.