Male breast cancer caravan spreads word in St. George that it’s not just a “pink world”

ST. GEORGE — If there’s one thing Southern Utah is full of, it’s car washes. But of all the cars that go through those automated brushes of St. George, few had as much designated purpose as a 2014 white Dodge Dart driven by Pat Washburn and Cheri Ambrose.

The “Marlyn Mobile” in front of the entrance to Zion National Park during its journey across the country to raise awareness of male breast cancer, Spingdale, Utah, Aug. 23, 2021 | Photo courtesy of Pat Washburn and Cheri Ambrose, St. George News

That car, stopped to get a wash on the way to Las Vegas, was adorned with a pink and light blue ribbon, the face of Marlyn Washburn on the hood and the words, “Breast cancer does not discriminate. Men too” on the side.

St. George was a brief stop for the “Marlyn Mobile” on Aug. 23 of a 29-day tour across 15 states and through 40 cities to raise awareness for the “other” breast cancer: Male breast cancer.

“My husband was diagnosed in December of 2016. He did not know that men could get breast cancer. My husband died just five months after his diagnosis,” Pat Washburn said. “We had a lot of people that came to the house to visit during those five months. And almost 100% of those people were unaware that men could get breast cancer.”

Washburn, of Omaha, Neb., and Ambrose, a East Hanover, N.J., resident who co-founded the Male Breast Cancer Coalition, started from Topeka, Kansas, on Aug. 17 and made a loop through the western states before traversing back down through the Dakotas and Iowa back to Kansas on Sept. 15. 

Undated photo of Pat and Marlyn Washburn | | Photo courtesy of Pat Washburn, St. George News

They logged more than 8,700 miles driving for around 87 hours over those 29 days. By their estimation, they met with 50 male breast cancer battlers, survivors and caregivers. They also along the way had more than 100 people who just came up to them, wondering what their cause was.  

“It is a moving billboard honoring my husband, but also remembering all of our men who are fighting breast cancer,” Washburn said. 

While 99% of breast cancers occur in females according to the American Cancer Society, it is still estimated that nationwide 2,650 men will be diagnosed with it this year and 530 will die of it. 

Between pink socks on NFL players, getting regular mammograms and self-exam education, there has been much more done to make society and women aware of how to detect female breast cancer early, which has aided in saving lives.    

The same cannot be said for male breast cancer, which may be why men diagnosed with breast cancer are 5% more likely to die of it than women.

Undated photo of the front of the “Marlyn Mobile” adorned with the face of Marlyn Washburn that traversed the country raising awareness of male breast cancer | Photo courtesy of Pat Washburn and Cheri Ambrose, St. George News

“It’s considered a pink world. Men feel it’s just not in their DNA. Men who have a lump or bump attribute to something else. That they can’t have breast cancer.” Washburn said. That means men are less likely to see their doctor if they suspect a problem, causing many deaths that could have been prevented with earlier detection. “The sad thing is if they’re not diagnosed soon enough.” 

Washburn said it’s also a misnomer that if men do get breast cancer, they’re older. 

“Quite often they will say they’re not old enough to worry about that. Age has nothing to do with it,” Washburn said. “We have had teenagers diagnosed. We have an awful lot of men in their 30s and 40s.”

It’s not just about potential male breast cancer patients being educated, it’s their doctors too. Ambrose said too often, even physicians will ignore the signs of possible breast cancer in men. 

“There are an awful lot of red flags being missed,” Ambrose, who founded the Male Breast Cancer Coalition after knowing six men who survived the disease. “That’s what we’re trying to educate physicians to do.”

A rolling education

Marlyn Washburn was all about educating people, being a teacher for 41 years in Nebraska and Iowa. The last car he bought was the white Dart and he wanted to educate people, getting a Nebraska breast cancer license plate personalized to say, “MEN 2.”

The “Marlyn Mobile” parked in Las Vegas during its journey across the country to raise awareness of male breast cancer, Las Vegas, Nev., Aug. 23, 2021 | Photo courtesy of Pat Washburn and Cheri Ambrose, St. George News

After he passed away, Washburn’s widow wanted to keep that education going. She first thought about passing around some pamphlets to raise awareness at parades and other events. 

“I said, ‘Nope, this is bigger than that,’” Washburn said. “And so I took the last car that he ever bought.”

And so the rolling education began, with Washburn driving the message-wrapped Marlyn Mobile through Nebraska and Iowa.  Ambrose found out about Washburn’s efforts through a Google News search that caught a local article on the car and a friendship was born that would take the message nationwide. “This is one of the most fulfilling experiences of a lifetime to spread the word,” Ambrose said.

Visiting an Ivins survivor

Washburn and Ambrose’s main reason for coming to Southern Utah, besides a chance to see its natural beauty, was to visit Howard Manwaring and his wife Eve in Ivins.

Eve and Howard Manwaring of Ivins hold the signature blue and pink awareness ribbon for male breast cancer, Las Vegas, Nev., Aug. 23, 2021 | Photo courtesy of Pat Washburn and Cheri Ambrose, St. George News

Problem was, by the time the Marlyn Mobile got to Greater Zion, the Manwarings weren’t in Ivins.

Manwaring was diagnosed with male breast cancer in 2013. Since then, that cancer has spread throughout his body and he has been fighting some sort of cancer ever since. 

But just before Washburn and Ambrose arrived, Manwaring was feeling well enough that he and his wife wanted to hit the road themselves to celebrate their anniversary. 

Off they went to Las Vegas.

That made the St. George stop a brief one, but it was long enough for Washburn and Ambrose to pose in front of the entrance to Zion National Park and take advantage of St. George’s brisk car wash industry.

They were amazed by Zion.

“I’ve never seen these wonders before,” Ambrose said. “I’m from New Jersey. We just have black tops.”

Ultimately, the vehicle reached Vegas. And for Washburn and Ambrose, the best show on the Strip was the hugs they were able to give Manwaring. 

“We got the biggest hugs from Howard,” Ambrose said, mentioning that even while Manwaring felt “well enough,” he struggled with nausea when they visited him. “He had days he just wanted to give up. He’s just got to keep fighting. He just really needs the support and we’re just glad that we’re here for him.”

Manwaring, for his part, said his fight has more ammunition. 

“Meeting Pat and Cheri was a wonderful treat,” Manwaring said. “They have been such a blessing in my life. They have provided support, education and love.”

Class is not dismissed

The cross-country trip may be over, but Washburn said she has much more educating to do in the Marlyn Mobile. 

A diagram showing a self-exam men can do to look for signs of male breast cancer | Photo courtesy of Male Breast Cancer Coalition, St. George News | Click to enlarge

A part of that education is for men to regularly do their own self-exams and look for these telltale signs of a possible issue:

  • A painless lump felt in the chest area.
  • Changes to the skin covering the breast including dimpling, wrinkling, redness or scaling.
  • Changes to the nipple or discharge.

St. George has a dedicated cancer center, the Intermountain Cancer Center, on the campus of St. George Regional Hospital. The breast cancer program is the largest in the center. 

Ambrose said men need to know that it is possible to get breast cancer and there is no shame in that.

“Men are embarrassed to say ‘breast,’” Ambrose said. “That’s the stigma we’re trying to break down.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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