PEABODY — Peter Devereaux didn’t even know men could get breast cancer.
So when his doctor called to give him the news, Devereaux thought he had called him by mistake.
“I said, ‘Doc, it’s Peter Devereaux,’” he said, thinking his doctor would apologize and hang up.
He didn’t, and within days Devereaux was back at the hospital, getting a bone scan and chest X-ray to see how far the cancer had spread within his body.
A Peabody native and North Andover resident, Devereaux, 50, was diagnosed with stage 3B invasive ductal carcinoma in January 2008. For the past 41/2 years, he has been battling the disease, which doctors discovered had spread to his hips, ribs and spine in 2009.
He is one of 82 men who have been diagnosed with male breast cancer believed to have been caused by water contamination at Camp Lejeune, a Marine Corps base in North Carolina.
“It’s the largest cluster ever recorded,” Devereaux said.
Devereaux signed up for the Marines after graduating from Peabody High School in 1980. He served until December 1984, and in that time spent 16 months at Camp Lejeune.
“On average, you’re 19 years old in the service, you work out like crazy, you work hard, you’re drinking water by the quarts,” he said. “None of us knew about the contaminated water.”
In 2008, Devereaux said he received a letter telling him he may have come in contact with contaminated water. By then, however, he had already found a lump in his chest.
After his diagnosis, Devereaux underwent a mastectomy followed by numerous rounds of chemotherapy and radiation. Doctors removed 22 cancerous lymph nodes.
“It makes you appreciate a lot of things in a hurry,” he said.
In 2009, after he began experiencing shooting pain up his spine, doctors discovered that his cancer had metastasized. He’s still fighting, currently undergoing chemotherapy to beat the cancer.