Steve’s Run guest speaker Danny Sledge, who retired from a higher education career that included Kalamazoo College dean of students, knows it’s rare for a man to experience breast cancer.
“It’s rare unless it’s you,” Sledge said of the 2,600 men it strikes, or 1.3 in 100,000. “Then it’s real.” Sledge shares his story at the 44th running of Steve’s Run on Saturday, July 28, on Southwestern Michigan College’s Dowagiac campus to benefit cancer research and the Steven Briegel Scholarship Fund.
Sledge was particularly blindsided because his father had it twice and underwent a double mastectomy unbeknownst to him. His paternal grandmother also had breast cancer, so “I’m cautious and concerned about my own sons, making certain they get tested. They’re both in their mid-30s, so it’s time for them to start discussing it with their doctors.”
Sledge credits his early detection to “a new doctor who was very thorough. I was kind of upset because I established such a good relationship over time with my former doctor, but he left the practice. I wasn’t looking forward to establishing a new relationship with a care provider, but he saw a number of factors in my health records that could contribute to male breast cancer and suggested I have a mammogram. I didn’t know about my father’s breast cancer until about 2006 when my grandmother was diagnosed and I came to Benton Harbor to visit.”
Sledge, who spoke Feb. 3 at Susan G. Komen Michigan’s fourth annual Pink Tie Ball, said thanks to early detection, “I just had to have a lumpectomy and radiation. No chemo. It will be five years this fall. My reaction to the diagnosis was ‘Really!?’ I didn’t know what to think. I didn’t know a lot about breast cancer in men. I was very grateful it was at such an early stage — I hadn’t noticed any lumps or pain — and didn’t have to go through some of the more difficult treatment options. I had no clue that men did mammograms. I had two tumors, one malignant, one not.”
“A lot of people don’t understand that men have breast tissue, too,” Sledge said, “it’s just not as extensive as women. It’s more prevalent in women because it’s related to the amount of estrogen in the body. Men have estrogen, too, just not as much. There is some evidence, particularly for male breast cancer, that it affects African American men at a greater level. There may be some stigma attached to men with a typically female disease, but I am not reluctant to speak out, motivated by the fact my own father had not discussed this important health issue with me. Raising awareness and promoting early detection are missions of mine. It’s important people share their cancer history with family members.”
The Kalamazoo resident retired in January from Lakeland Health as diversity and inclusion program manager, but continues to consult so he maintains a fifth-floor office with a panoramic St. Joseph River view. Lakeland is Berrien County’s largest employer with a team of more than 4,000 professionals. Facilities include Lakeland Hospitals in Niles and Watervliet in addition to Lakeland Medical Center in St. Joseph.
When Sledge set off from Benton Harbor in 1970 for Western Michigan University, he pursued a 1974 bachelor’s degree in music education, intending to follow in the footsteps of his most influential teacher, his choir director. In 1977 he added a master’s degree in counseling education/counseling psychology, also from WMU, and spent more than 30 years in higher education administration.
The 10K run, 5K run/walk and fun run start at 8:30 a.m. in front of the David C. Briegel Building, named for Steve’s father, SMC’s fifth president from 1981-1998. SMC and Fifth Third Bank are the premier sponsors. Steve, who died March 1, 1990, at 22 after a 5 ½-year battle, graduated fifth in the Dowagiac Union High School Class of 1986, from SMC in 1988 and was a junior in Ferris State’s SMC program. He participated in golf, band and basketball for the Chieftains. Visit stevesrun.swmich.edu to register.