'I was in denial': North Vancouver family raising funds for treatment of rare male breast cancer
VANCOUVER -- A North Vancouver man and his family are appealing for help in the face of a rare and aggressive form of cancer.
Michael Heaven has triple-positive breast cancer and is running out of treatment options. He first found a lump in 2016 but didn't think much about it at the time.
"Like most males I was in denial there was any issue," Heaven told CTV News Vancouver. "I thought I must have pulled a muscle."
It was breast cancer, however, and Heaven underwent chemotherapy, radiation and a mastectomy. By 2018, it seemed the cancer had gone.
"At the beginning of the pandemic, not very good timing, I started to have extreme back pain," he said, adding that he went to hospital and learned the cancer had metastasised.
"It had spread to my lungs, lymph nodes, liver and spine."
Marissa, one of Heaven's three daughters, says the past five years have been "a nightmare."
"Like any daughter would say, I need my dad," she told CTV News. "I need my dad for the rest of my life."
Heaven has undergone more chemo and radiation, but the cancer is still spreading.
"I'm a triple-positive male. They don't exist," Heaven said. "There's no one in B.C. that's triple positive (with) male breast cancer."
The Canadian Breast Cancer Network says only about one per cent of all breast cancers occur in men. In Canada, about 220 men are diagnosed with it each year.
The CBCN says breast cancer tumours can have estrogen receptors and progesterone receptors. Some breast cancers need a gene called HER2 to grow, and are considered HER2 positive when there are too many of those receptors. When a person has all three receptors, they're considered triple positive.
Most men who are diagnosed with breast cancer are typically estrogen-receptor positive or progesterone-receptor positive, CBCN says, making Heaven's triple-positive diagnosis even more rare.
The Heaven family is asking for help in the form of an online fundraising campaign for treatments not available in Canada. So far, the campaign has raised about $90,000.
"I've been so blown away by that outpouring of love," Heaven said. "It does inspire a huge amount of gratitude."
Heaven says he hopes by sharing his story more men won't ignore the early warning signs.
"I think the biggest thing with male breast cancer is just to make people aware to go through the steps to follow up," he said. "I'm here five years later because of that."
With files from CTV News Vancouver's Nafeesa Karim