‘Men too’: Two-time breast cancer survivor raising awareness for men with tattoo

Men too "-- that's the message from a man who beat breast cancer twice.
Published: Oct. 18, 2022 at 7:18 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - David Shelton won’t lie to you. The first time he discovered he had breast cancer in 2010, he was just as embarrassed as he was afraid.

“I spent the first month calling it chest cancer,” Shelton said. “I was embarrassed because guys shouldn’t be getting breast cancer.”

But moving past that embarrassment, he now wants to change the way men think about the disease.

Shelton first shared his story with NBC12 back in 2019. After his first diagnosis, Shelton says he underwent a mastectomy to remove the lump under his nipple. From there, he spent nearly a decade in remission.

“Don’t be embarrassed, don’t be afraid if you find something, say something,” Shelton said.

After his initial bout with cancer Shelton made himself a license plate that read “Men Too” to commemorate his battle and educate and remind men that, however rare, they are not immune to the disease.

“If someone found a knot and saved their life, I’d be so happy, not because they got cancer, but because they caught early on when it’s easily treatable,” Shelton said.

But shortly after that March 2019 interview, Shelton says the cancer returned seven months later, infecting his lymph node.

“It was a little bit scary because I thought the cancer would never come back,” Shelton said.

Fortunately, Shelton beat cancer again, this time with radiation.

“This is the second time I’ve come through it, and I’m ready to battle it a third time if I have to,” he said.

With his chest scarred from past surgeries and radiation, Shelton says he wanted to reclaim that space the disease ravaged. So the 67-year-old went under the needle to immortalize his message to men with a tattoo.

“It says ‘Men Too,’” Shelton said. “It’s my billboard, my mouthpiece!”

According to VCU Health, of the 290,000 cases of breast cancer reported each year in the U.S., men account for less than one percent compared to 1 out of 8 women who will experience it at some point in their lives, but it doesn’t mean they should ignore the risks.

Dr. Harry Bear with the VCU Massey Cancer Center says as he fights for a cure to this disease, he’s happy Shelton is doing his part to raise awareness.

“I’m glad that there are people like him around that are not hiding away the fact that this has happened to them and to let people know that not only did he get breast cancer and that it can happen to other men but that he beat it,” Dr. Bear said.

“I want people to look at me and say, ‘Oh, I wonder what happened to him?’ But now they’re going to look at me and say, ‘Oh wow, that guy had breast cancer!’” Shelton said. “That’s what I want.”

And while Shelton admits he may not have the best beach bod, when the weather warms up, he hopes his new ink will, at the very least, leave its mark on men.

I want to spread the word so it might save someone’s father, or someone’s son, or someone’s nephew,” Shelton said. “Someone’s life could get saved. Just by checking themselves out.”

Experts say it’s not as crucial for men to receive regular mammograms. However, if you feel a lump on your breast, doctors say you shouldn’t ignore it. Instead, you should get it checked out to be safe.