(NEW YORK) — Fighting cancer is never easy. But as Dr. Oliver Bogler undergoes his second month of chemotherapy for breast cancer, he says he is grateful that his wife can relate. Five years ago, she was also going through her second month of chemotherapy, also for breast cancer.
Oliver and his wife Irene are both cancer researchers at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas. They met 20 years ago while doing cancer research at the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research in San Diego. The two connected over their passion for research.
Irene, now 52, was the first in their family to face cancer. It was 2007, she was 46, and they had two children under the age of seven at the time.
“I think you feel numb, a little bit shocked, but within a few days I was in at Anderson having tests and making determinations on treatments,” says Irene. She went through chemotherapy, a mastectomy and radiation, in that order. During that time, Irene says she remembers Oliver giving her unconditional support.
Now, though, Oliver has developed the same kind of breast cancer. And at 46 years old, he’s the same age as Irene was when she began her battle. He is now undergoing chemotherapy and is looking ahead to his own radical mastectomy in March.
Breast cancer is very rare in men. “Of all the cases of breast cancer, 99 percent are women and one percent are men,” according to Oliver’s doctor and men’s breast cancer specialist at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Dr. Sharon Giordano. The Boglers are the first couple Giordano has ever seen who have both had breast cancer — and she has seen over 100 male breast cancer patients.
Giordano says a lot of the time men have a delayed diagnosis because they don’t think they could be at risk for breast cancer. “Men on average have an advanced disease because you have to have a lump to identify it. They don’t examine their nipples and think breast cancer.”
Members of Oliver’s family say neither family has a history of cancer, and initially wondered if the cancer research could have been a reason Irene and Oliver both had the same cancer.
“It’s not Irene’s genes or Oliver’s genes, so you do wonder why,” says Oliver’s brother, Daniel. “We asked Oliver about that when he was diagnosed; we thought maybe while feeding his cells and growing his cultures.”
Oliver assured his family that the radiation he and Irene received in their labs while researching is no worse than one gets from an X-ray machine at the airport. Daniel says he believes the entire situation is nothing more than very bad luck.
Oliver’s cancer is Stage 2, just as Irene’s was. The family remains optimistic that Oliver will reach the same cancer-free stage that Irene has. Until then, the two are benefiting from a mutual understanding of what Oliver is going through.
“These two people who do nothing but work against cancer all their lives — what have they done to deserve this? Why does lightning have to strike twice on their little family?” Daniel says. He did add, however, “If it has to happen to anyone, he’s someone who’s intimately familiar with cancer and he’s at the best place to get the best care.”
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio