Peter Devereaux was just waking up when he discovered the mass in his chest.
It was Friday, Jan. 11, 2008. Since the former Marine was in good shape with more muscle than fat, the bump caught his attention. He told himself he’d gotten it playing basketball.
“I had no idea about men with breast cancer,” the North Andover man said.
He also had no idea that after a doctor’s appointment the next day, he would be hustling to meetings with surgeons from New Hampshire and Boston; nor that in less than a month, he’d be in full-blown cancer treatment.
When the doctor called to tell him he had breast cancer, Devereaux thought he was reading the wrong patient’s chart.
“I said, ‘Doc, this is Peter,’” he recalled.
There was no mistake, however. Not only did Devereaux have male breast cancer, but at a very young 45 years old. Most male patients who get breast cancer develop the disease even later than women.
“I was a freak,” he said. “I was a young dude with breast cancer.”
Ever since, he has been on a mission to raise awareness about male breast cancer, even as he battled the disease. He appeared most recently at the 20th annual Relay for Life last weekend in his hometown of Peabody to cheer on his team of family and friends.
In an email Friday, he said he had just finished radiation. “So right now, I am done with treatment and entering hospice at home.”
Of course, he felt isolated at first.
But what Devereaux also would learn in time is that he’s part of the largest cohort of male breast cancer patients ever recorded: former Marines who were stationed at Camp Lejeune. At the North Carolina base, Marines and their families were exposed to toxic water from at least 1957 to 1987. Devereaux served four years with the Marines beginning when he was 18 and was stationed at Camp Lejeune for 16 months.