- Married couple Ken and Jane Gremling were diagnosed with breast cancer within months of each other.
- Both had mastectomies and have an excellent prognosis, according to the Cleveland Clinic, where they were both treated.
- Both cancers were caught early: Ken brought up his concerning symptoms with his family doctor right away, and Jane never missed her annual mammogram.
Late last year, Ken Gremling noticed a lump in his chest and bleeding from his right nipple. He didn’t think much of it at the time, but he alerted his family doctor about the symptoms anyway.
Later, after the lump was surgically removed, Ken, 75, found out he had breast cancer.
That was a surprise enough on its own, as breast cancer is far rarer in men than it is in women. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), the lifetime risk of a woman developing breast cancer is 1 in 8; for a man, it’s 1 in 833.
But there was another shock in store: Six months after Ken’s diagnosis, his wife Jane, 66, found out she had breast cancer, too – also in her right breast.
“We’ve been married almost 47 years. We share everything,” Jane told INSIDER. “But this is getting to be a little much.”
The Gremlings’ story was first published online by the Cleveland Clinic – where both received treatment for their cancers – on Tuesday. Both Jane and Ken, who work in real estate together, have an “excellent” prognosis for recovery, the Cleveland Clinic reported.
INSIDER spoke with Jane, Ken, and their oncologist to learn more about their extraordinary story.
Jane and Ken Gremling both got mastectomies
At first, a biopsy on Ken’s lump came back negative for cancer. But his nipple continued to bleed, so he went back to his doctor. It was only after the lump was fully removed and sent to a pathology lab that Ken’s cancer diagnosis was confirmed. He had a single mastectomy to remove his breast tissue on the right side.
Jane’s cancer was caught during her annual mammogram.
“I went for my regular checkup – I’ve gone every year for 30 years. And I didn’t think anything of it because nothing’s ever come up,” she said.
That scan was different though. Jane ultimately learned she had three tumours in her right breast that she hadn’t been able to feel them. A doctor told her she’d need to have the tumours removed surgically, and asked if she knew of any breast surgeons she’d like to see.
Luckily – thanks to Ken’s experience – she did. Jane also got a single mastectomy from Cleveland Clinic’s Dr. Zahraa AlHilli, M.D., the same surgeon who operated on her husband.
Both Ken and Jane are now taking the breast cancer medication Tamoxifen for the next five years, and so far, they’re “feeling great,” Jane said.
Their paths will diverge slightly in the coming weeks: In late October, Jane is scheduled to have a breast reconstruction surgery. Ken decided not to undergo a similar procedure.
“I’m not having any kind of reconstruction. I’m 75 – I could care less,” he said. “So I’m kind at a loss there, but up to this point I think I’ve been a help [to Jane.] She would have questions about a lot of the stuff I went through, and I would help her.”
Their story reinforces the importance of early detection
Neither Jane nor Ken needed chemotherapy or radiation because each of their cancers was caught early, Cleveland Clinic breast oncologist Dr. Jame Abraham, M.D., who treated both Gremlings, told INSIDER.
“In the early stages, breast cancer is highly treatable,” he said.
For women, mammograms can help catch cancer before it spreads to other parts of the body. The test isn’t perfect – it may miss some cancers, and there is some risk of anxiety-inducing false positive results. But the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists still recommends that women at average risk for breast cancer get mammograms every one to two years starting at age 40.
And men should be aware that they can breast cancer, too, Abraham explained.
“If they have any symptoms, they should seek care,” he said.
Lumps are the most common symptom of breast cancer, according to the ACS, but it’s also possible to have breast swelling; breast or nipple pain; a nipple that’s turning inward; red, scaly, or thickening breast or nipple skin; and any nipple discharge that’s not breast milk.
Abraham also lauded the Gremlings on their positive attitude throughout their shared breast cancer ordeal.
“We connected on a personal level on our first visit,” he said. “It’s amazing how they are dealing with this diagnosis.”
“I just said, ‘We’re going to beat this.'” Jane said. “We’ve been through a lot of things in our life. This is just another thing we’re going through.”
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