Màrius Soler is a male breast cancer patient and the founder of INVI, an association that aims to give visibility to men with breast cancer.
He is currently living with the disease thanks to a novel treatment approved in Europe that had only been successful in women
Màrius is a man. He’s a man and a breast cancer patient. Since his cancer was detected, he decided to dedicate himself, body and soul, to giving visibility to men suffering from this disease through his Association, INVI. INVI because all the men suffering from breast cancer are invisible in the eyes of society, a disease that the vast majority of us think can only affect women. It is his way of giving them a voice and demanding more research for this group of people that represent between 1% and 2% of all cases of breast cancer diagnosed annually in Spain.
After 4 years, Màrius can say that his condition is “dormant,” but his desire to work continues. He fully believes in the research and the professionals who treat him. “I have to take treatment for the rest of my life to keep my cancer from waking up and taking over,” explains Màrius. The sequelae of the first line of treatment after an intense year of 18 sessions of chemotherapy, radiotherapy and three operations are not exactly limited. Chronic fatigue, which he tries to alleviate with low-impact exercise due to his bone metastases, drowsiness, not being able to be out in the sun since it can give him heat stroke, and other sequelae like the disappearance of libido. “When you start this process, nobody tells you that this is going to happen to you, and it is really important to talk it out, and a lot. You need to talk about it with your partner, with the team of oncologists and with a specialist and treat it,” says Màrius.
Despite all this, and even if it seems hard to believe, he is thankful for all the lessons he has learned from this disease that takes over everything and that is so hard to learn to live with. He values the little things more, but above all the greatest lesson is to enjoy what he has and to live every moment to the fullest. Therefore, after thinking about how “doomed” he felt, in his own words, after the disease was detected and realizing he had a rare cancer, he decided to do something amazing: create INVI and build awareness of his situation so that men going through the same thing wouldn´t feel alone. Building awareness in society and for those people who unfortunately will have to go through this, so they are more conscious of it and can detect it earlier.
Màrius’s relationship with cancer began as coincidentally, for a lack of better words, when he noticed a little lump behind a nipple. He thought it was just a fat lump that would go away, but it didn´t; it just kept growing and getting harder. “Like most men, I never thought of seeing a doctor because men have a hard time going to a doctor anyway,” Màrius recalls. And so almost five months passed, when in December 2017 Màrius woke up one morning and could barely get out of bed because of an intense pain in his ribs. An emergency physician saw him immediately at home and said it looked like a muscle spasm, but that he didn’t like the way his nipple looked, which was completely retracted, and he suggested he see a specialist. But what specialist?
“For women, it’s a no brainer,” Màrius says, “but what about for men?”
Immediately, his wife contacted her gynecologist. At the visit, with just an examination, the doctor confirmed that it was a tumor and that he should take “about two years off” from that point onwards because of the tests, confirmation of diagnosis and the treatment he would need.
“It’s really a triple blow: first, you have to accept that you have cancer, second, that you have a cancer that is rare and not associated with men, and third, that you don’t know if your disease even has a treatment.” So they started with chemo, but soon after, they had to admit him for severe neck pain that turned out to be metastasis; he had a vertebra that was completely damaged. So he had emergency surgery. Chemotherapy had the expected outcome; it did not shrink the tumor enough. He was running out of options until his oncologist proposed starting with a new, recently approved treatment. At that exact time, cyclin inhibitors were approved in Europe, and he wanted to try them with him, and he would be one of the first men in Spain to try this treatment. That medicinal product was working in women, and they wanted to see if it was as effective in men. Fortunately, the treatment fulfilled its prognosis and worked, and now Màrius is here celebrating “anniversaries”.
Every four months, he goes for follow-up, but as a precaution, every month or even every week, he does a self-examination in case that little lump tries to come back, so he can find it on time and act quickly. You have to take medication for life, but what does it matter if you just got years of your life back? When his disease was detected, his children were 6, 9 and 12 years old, and they were by his side the whole time, and his very brave wife held his hand and has been with him through it all. He realized that it wasn’t worth closing himself off, and he found that writing about what was happening made him feel good. Building awareness in others and sharing his experience helped make the invisible visible.