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Video: Husband, wife both battle breast cancer

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    >>> you care.

    >>> this morning on our special series " breast cancer today," an ohio couple's extraordinary story. as mike welsh was seeing his wife barbara through her treatment, he never imagined that months later he would be diagnosed with the disease. we'll talk to the couple in a moment, but first, here's nbc's janet shamlian .

    >> reporter: as barbara welsh battled breast cancer , her husband mike was beside her every step of the way. with her trademark wig, mike has been by her side with appointment check-ins and meetings with doctors, and learned, perhaps, the most important part of the battle -- keeping a sense of humor, knowledge he would soon put to use himself. nine months after barbara found a lump in her breast, mike found one of his own. you were shocked?

    >> oh, absolutely, absolutely. because i didn't know that men could get breast cancer . see all the ads on tv, the women doing the monthly exams. you never see a man doing that, so how are we supposed to know? you want it to run, don't you?

    >> reporter: breast cancer is rare in men, making up fewer than 1% of all cases. and doctors at the medical center in ohio say they have never seen simultaneous cases in a couple.

    >> it's a very remarkable situation, and i guess fortunately, it doesn't happen often, but gives an opportunity for a bond that is immeasurable. comparing the two sides --

    >> reporter: mike's cancer was diagnosed just like barbara 's, through an ultrasound. both have had surgery to remove their breast tumors . she is in her final round of radiation and will be there when his treatment begins soon. what has it been like for the two of you, going through this trauma at the same time?

    >> if nothing else, we've got one another. i'm there for him and he's there for me.

    >> reporter: married 43 years, barbara and mike see going through breast cancer together as only a brief road block . where are you going to be a year from now?

    >> we will be together doing whatever.

    >> oh, yeah?

    >> mike, you're on television.

    >> reporter: a couple determined to make it in sickness and in health. for "today," janet shamlian , nbc news, middletown, ohio . yep, 41 years of marriage and now you know why. mike and barbara welsh are here, she without her trademark wig this morning, which i was looking forward to, also with dr. kathy ann joseph , breast surgeon at new york presbyterian hospital and columbia university medical center . good morning to you all. so nice to have you here.

    >> good morning.

    >> good morning.

    >> barbara , i know you just finished your radiation treatment this week. how are you doing? what's the prognosis?

    >> i'm doing wonderful.

    >> you look wonderful.

    >> oh, yeah. i'm going to get hair.

    >> well, it's coming back in. it looks very nice, very youthful.

    >> uh, yeah, that's good to say, thank you.

    >> mike, seeing your wife go through this first and then you yourself getting that diagnosis, what was that like for you?

    >> it was devastating. with hers and with mine, it was, for lack of a better word, surreal. because like i say, men don't get breast cancer .

    >> yeah, 1%. i mean --

    >> yeah.

    >> what were you feeling? what led you to the diagnosis?

    >> excuse me. i happened to get in a car and put my seatbelt on. it was uncomfortable. i moved it around a little bit and it didn't get much better, so i eventually went to my family doctor and mentioned to barry robertson that, hey, i've got a problem. he said, where? we followed barbara 's diagnosis --

    >> so you suspected right away?

    >> well, no, i didn't have any inkling of it. because i had been out in the yard working and i thought i pulled a muscle. i would have been better off if i pulled a muscle.

    >> and you had a mastectomy back in july, so what's your prognosis?

    >> they talk about the pill form of chemo and maybe some radiation, but a prognosis is good.

    >> what stage did they catch your breast cancer in?

    >> they told me mine was a stage four.

    >> wow.

    >> yeah.

    >> so, that's -- that's far along.

    >> yeah.

    >> and what about you, barbara ?

    >> yours was less than one.

    >> it was less than a one, because --

    >> they caught you very early.

    >> yes, yes.

    >> and dr. joseph , i have to mention, you are not the welshs welshes' doctor. this is a rare case. what puts men at risk, though?

    >> yes, male breast cancer is rare, and because it's so rare, it's hard to sort of define what the risk factors are. mike is a classic example. it affects older men, men in their 60s and 70s. there are hereditary risk factors that are associated with it. so, 20% of all men that get breast cancer have the genetic p predisposition to it. they may have the mutation. so when we have men with breast cancer , we offer genetic testing so they can find out if they have the gene for it.

    >> and women are told to do breast self exams. should men be doing that as well or is it just watch out for discomfort and pain, as we heard?

    >> yeah, men should -- it is rare, but men should be aware of their bodies, just like women do, and we do recommend that men check their breasts, absolutely.

    >> and really quickly, mike and barbara , 41 years of marriage, has this brought you two closer together, going through this?

    >> oh, absolutely.

    >> yes, it has.

    >> well, you're able to laugh about it and keep such a great sense of humor, so, we are praying with you and hope all is well.

    >> i appreciate it.

    >> my son even shaved his head for me.

    >> oh, your son did, right?

    >> yes.

    >> that's very sweet. well, we wish you the best.

    >> thank you.

    >> thank you.

    >> and dr. joseph as well,

updated 10/23/2009 11:27:13 AM ET 2009-10-23T15:27:13

A husband and wife are both undergoing treatment for breast cancer in a case that illustrates how the disease can strike both sexes. Mike and Barbara Welsh, of Monroe, in southwestern Ohio, each had surgery this year after separate discoveries that they had breast cancer.

Barbara Welsh, 63, had surgery in January, went through chemotherapy and is now starting radiation treatments.

After surgery in July, her 62-year-old husband is determining the next step in his recovery, which may include chemotherapy and radiation. He had a modified radical mastectomy on his right breast.

Mike Welsh says he is speaking up about his cancer to make other men aware that breast cancer is not just something that strikes women.

"If I could help 10 people or 100, that's a start," said Welsh, a retired AK Steel bricklayer.

Male breast cancer is still rare, with about 1,900 cases expected to be diagnosed this year, and about 440 men dying from the illness.

Mike Welsh first noticed something was wrong when he got into his car and felt discomfort as he strapped the seat belt across his chest.

After his wife began her treatments, he asked his doctor if men could get breast cancer. His doctor referred him to the Compton Center at Atrium Medical Center in Middletown, where he got the diagnosis.

The couple, married 41 years, laugh about their experience to help stave off the depression that sunk in after their diagnoses.

"You've got to laugh at it," Mike Welsh said. "You have good days, bad days and better days. We're having fun with it."

He and his wife joke that she glows from radiation treatment that she has begun.

"I'm going to set her outside for Halloween," Mike Welsh said.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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