When cancer runs in the family

Brother and sister win their battle with breast cancer.

Men can get it too

Dr Leonard Danilowitz

Dr Leonard Danilowitz was working at the Wits Dental School as a dentist when he found a pea-sized lump next to his nipple in 2007. He immediately booked an appointment with a general surgeon who told him he has nothing to worry about, but he decided to do a biopsy anyway.

The test results came back and he was shocked to find out that the lump was malignant.

“We were so surprised as we didn’t think we had a history of breast cancer in the family. We had aunts who died of cancer when I was young, but we don’t know what type,” Leonard added.

“When I told my friends and some of my relatives I had breast cancer, they thought I was joking! I explained to them that men can get it too and the fact that I was 67 years old and that it was in my left breast made me a textbook case.

My GP recommended that I meet with Dr Carol Ann Benn and after a very informal chat, she put my fears at rest and I was very at ease. Sometimes you have to see the humour in bad situations like these. On the day of the surgery when my wife and I checked in at Milpark Hospital they took us to the ladies ward. The nurses assumed that it was my wife, Rhona, who needed the operation”.

After his operation Leonard decided to start taking Tamoxofin and he had no chemotherapy or radiation.

Unfortunately, the lump redeveloped only a year later and he opted to have a mastectomy followed by chemotherapy and radiation. Because he suffered very bad side effects from Tamoxifen he switched and started taking Femara. He has been cancer-free for a year.

“I think my sister and I have a very similar attitude when it come to this disease. You can’t let cancer run your life. My wife and I have two sons and a daughter and I have encouraged them to go for genetic testing. However, the final decision is up to them,” stated Leonard.

Her side of the story

Dora Blumberg

Leonard’s sibling Dora Blumberg was diagnosed with multi-focal ductal cancer in 2008. After going for her routine annual mammogram, a needle biopsy was performed and the test came back positive.

“It was quite a shock to discover that I was diagnosed with breast cancer only a year after my brother. I am a vegetarian, I am very fit and I have always led a very active lifestyle, so I didn’t expect this result. But I have been on Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) for a very long time,” said Dora.

She also made an appointment with Dr Benn who suggested a mastectomy. Dora decided to have both her breasts removed as a precautionary manner.

“It was suggested that I start taking Tamoxifin but I am a trained microbiologist, so due to my background I decided against taking the medication. I also took my age into consideration when I made this decision. The moment I was diagnosed, I stopped taking HRT and I go for regular check-ups. It has been so far, so good. I am cancer free,” she said.

Dora’s daughter battled Thyroid cancer when she was only 17. Thankfully she recovered completely. Meanwhile, Leonard and Dora’s older sister has also been diagnosed with blood cancer recently.

“I don’t know if these cancers have anything to do with genetics but I do believe that smoking and bad lifestyle habits play a major role in getting cancer. My advice to anyone who gets diagnosed with cancer is to get a second and even a third opinion if necessary. Listen carefully to your doctor when you go to your appointments and remember that you have rights and patients have choices in their medical care. Don’t make rash decisions which you might regret later,” Dora advised.

Written by Anelle Hamilton