A startling and rare diagnosis in 2013 had threatened his plans for graduation and a medical career.
“It’s one of those experiences where you think maybe this is all just a dream,” said Waller.
Dreams were coming true in Waller’s senior year: he was elected Mr. VUU and was accepted to a black Greek fraternity.
“You know, life was good. At least, I thought it was,” he said.
That optimism was shattered last may when he received life changing news.
It started when Waller says he noticed the right side of his chest was sensitive to the touch. Then he found a lump.
“And then I pressed on it and that’s when I noticed the discharge,” said Waller. “And that sparked my concern a little more. At my next follow-up appointment, I pointed it out to my doctor.”
That conversation with his doctor would save Waller’s life. A biopsy revealed he had early stage breast cancer.
“It was a numbing feeling, like ‘this cannot be happening to me,’” said Waller.
Medical Oncologist Dr. Kumar Abhishek with the Bon Secours Cancer Institute says Waller’s case is surprising for two reasons. Breast cancer affects far more women than men, with men making up fewer than one percent of cases.
And Waller was just 21 when he was diagnosed. Dr. Abhishek says male breast cancer is rare and skews much older; the average age for male breast cancer is age 67.
He says there are several risk factors for men including liver disease, alcohol use, hormone imbalance, and certain congenital diseases, such as undescended testes.
Dr. Abhishek says while women have learned the importance of early detection, men have not, because of the stigma of the diagnosis.
“Men tend to ignore the abnormalities in the breast may be they don’t think about it because it’s classically associated with women,” said Abhishek. He says it’s why most men are diagnosed with late stage breast cancer.
But not Waller. His was caught early because he didn’t ignore the changes in his body.
He plans to continue an awareness campaign for his fellow Panthers.
“Because every day is awareness day for me,” said Waller. “So I’m going to take advantage of that, and make sure the campus is aware, more specifically the male population of the campus is aware that this can happen to you.”
Dr. Abhisheck says any man who is diagnosed with breast cancer should undergo genetic testing so they and their relatives can receive the appropriate counseling.