Pete Devereaux died last week at age 52. Pete was a Marine, a champion athlete and a patient advocate who brought greater awareness not only to male breast cancer in general but to his 82 fellow Marines who were stationed at Camp Lejeune and later diagnosed with male breast cancer due to a contaminated water supply. ( This is the largest reported cluster of male breast cancer.)
I met Pete last year when served as a patient introducer for the Metastatic Breast Cancer Network’s (MBCN’s) annual conference. (You can watch Pete’s video here.)
Pete was initially diagnosed with stage 3b male breast cancer on January 11th, 2008. After noticing a lump, Pete called his doctor and had a mammogram, ultrasound and core biopsy. “A few days later the doctor called me up and said I had male breast cancer,” Pete recalled. “I asked him if he was calling the right patient. I was in complete shock.”
Pete had a mastectomy and 22 cancerous lymph nodes removed, followed by 14 months of treatment (29 chemotherapy and 30 radiation appointments). Just three days before his last appointment in April 2009, Pete started experiencing shooting pain up and down his spine. “At my last scheduled appointment I had scans that revealed my cancer had traveled to my spine, ribs and hip,” Pete said. “I have metastatic breast cancer.”
Pete was one of three men with metastatic breast cancer who attended MBCN’s 2013 conference. When I think of Pete, I hear his distinctive Bostonian accent and I see his smile and his big bald head. I loved Pete’s sense of humor–we hit it off right away when we met in Houston.
Someone else in Pete’s shoes might have been bitter–that was not Pete’s way. He was a doer–not a complainer. He is featured in “Semper Fi” a documentary about the contamination at Camp LeJeune and did countless television and print interviews to share the story of Marines with male breast cancer.
If the American Cancer Society or Komen or other group were having a fundraiser, Pete was there. Pete was part of the group that successfully lobbied to establish Oct. 13 as National Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day. When MBCN teamed with Dana Farber to put on a metastatic breast cancer seminar, Pete was part of the organizing committee. He was a proud graduate of Project Lead, a 5-day course on the science of breast cancer in San Diego, put on by the National Breast Cancer Coalition.
“I continue to attend as many events as I can and am always open to speaking about male and metastatic breast cancer,” Pete said. Indeed, as reported here, Pete was the featured speaker at the June 2014 Avon Walk for Breast Cancer in Boston. He was in a wheelchair, but he was there, and sounded like the same old Pete.
Pete often paid tribute to his wife of 18 years, Fiona Maguire.
“I always knew that my wife was a cool, pretty chick. But this cute little Irish girl is a bad-ass,” Pete told a Salem, NH reporter. “Little do you know at the beginning how much (you’ll go through). Our love went to a whole new level.”