BANGOR, Maine — When breast cancer survivors are called to the stage during Sunday’s Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure ceremonies, one will stand out from the crowd.
“There is one 6-foot, 2-inch guy” who will be standing among the women in pink, said Jeff Bennett.
And he’ll stick out even more because he will be wearing a gray breast cancer survivor’s T-shirt designed for males who have fought the disease that kills half a million Americans annually.
Bennett, who has participated in the Komen race since being diagnosed with breast cancer five years ago, was playing golf in 2003 when he noticed a bump on his right breast. At first the Bangor resident thought it was a bug bite. He never dreamed it was breast cancer.
Bennett, who was 41 at the time, went to his doctor, who sent him for additional tests and a biopsy.
“We didn’t even discuss the possibility of it being breast cancer,” he said.
When his surgeon told him he had a malignant tumor, “It didn’t sink in. I was kind of stunned.”
Reality quickly caught up with him because his wife, Kim, whom he describes as his biggest supporter, was on the phone as he was leaving the doctor’s office.
“That was one of the hardest things, having to tell someone else, ‘It’s cancerous,’” Bennett said.
Bennett, an athletic man who never smoked and who didn’t have any family history of cancer, had aggressive stage two breast cancer. Within a week he had chest X-rays and bone scans and was seeing an oncologist. He decided to “give myself the best chance to beat it” and had his right breast tissue removed.
“It’s amazing how fast it all happened,” he said.
He then went through four cycles of chemotherapy, losing his hair along the way. He has been a survivor for nearly five years now. He said when people learn he is a breast cancer survivor, they “always say they didn’t know men could get breast cancer.” And that’s one reason why he participates in the Race for the Cure, is a delegate for the Lance Armstrong Foundation, advocates annually in Washington for more cancer funding, and participates in other cancer-related activities.
“I was really surprised that it could happen to me,” Bennett said. “Everybody needs to be aware [it can happen to them] and go in for the screenings.”
This year, Bennett is the 2008 Team New Balance Survivor for the Komen Race for the Cure. On Thursday night he was at the Bangor Mall, pre-registering race participants, and on Friday night he was inviting people to sign up, saying it was not too late.
People may register right up until the race begins by heading to the Bangor Waterfront between 7:30 and 9:30 a.m. Sunday.
People may also visit www.komenmaine.com or stop by the mall between noon and 4 p.m. Saturday to register.
The survivors’ ceremony will be at 9 a.m. Sunday, and the 5K race-walk begins at 10 a.m. The 1K fun walk begins 15 minutes later. Some downtown streets, including Main, Buck, Lincoln, Front and Railroad, will be closed during the event.
Since the Komen Race for the Cure began in Bangor in 1997, more than $1 million has been raised and used for treatment, screenings and education right here in Maine. Another $350,000 has been given to the national Susan G. Komen for the Cure Award and Research Grant Program, which funds research to find a cure for breast cancer.
Locally, the Bangor race raised around $230,000 last year, and more than 3,800 people participated.
“It’s a good thing,” he said. “I have so many people come up and ask me about cancer” and being a survivor. “Those of us who are fortunate enough to survive cancer need to help others. It keeps me motivated.”