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'Men get breast cancer too' | Ohio daughters raising awareness about breast cancer in men in honor of their father

Kelly Crippen and Denise Smith want to raise awareness of breast cancer among men in honor of the memory of their dad, Denis Crippen, who died in 2003.

TOLEDO, Ohio — "Men get breast cancer too." That' the message two local women want to spread after the passing of their father.

As the Susan G. Komen Foundation continues to invest more in research for men with breast cancer, this year's Toledo Race for the Cure is in memory of Dennis Crippen.

The first thing sisters Kelly Crippen and Denise Smith will tell you about their father Dennis is that he was... 

"Funny," Kelly said.

"He was funny. He was a joker," Denise said.

And it was that joking spirit Kelly and Denise say their father carried with him the seven years he fought breast cancer, a disease that was nearly unheard of in men when he was diagnosed in 1996.

"One percent of men (got) diagnosed in 96. When he died in 2003, it was up to 6%of men," Denise said.

Denise said doctors only caught the cancer after her dad noticed he had an inverted nipple and then, pain. He waited six months to get it checked out. 

Dennis had a mastectomy, radiation, chemo, and other treatments and procedures traditionally designed for women. That was something Dennis used to joke about.

"All the medications and stuff he was taking for chemo had never been tested on men. So he would come home and tell me his periods were going to be late. He shouldn't try to get pregnant while on this medication, shouldn't breastfeed," Denise said.

Dennis was in remission for four years. Then, doctors found a tumor in his neck. The cancer had spread to his prostate, kidneys and bones. 

Dennis died in 2003, just weeks before his 53rd birthday.

"I miss him every day. I have a 10-year-old son who will never know his grandfather," Kelly said.

"There's not a day that goes by that I don't think about him," Denise added.

Credit: WTOL 11

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Kelly and Denise got matching tattoos to honor their father, a man who worked on the railroad and liked to ride his motorcycle - activities Kelly learned to do for him.

"There's a freedom, being on the motorcycle, that I could understand why he loved it," Kelly said.

His daughters said while Dennis was funny and a biker, he was also shy and private. They joked he might be a little mad at them for nominating him for the Race for the Cure's "In Memory of" designation. 

But there's still something they would like him to know. 

"I would tell him that I nominated him because I was proud of him. Of how he handled everything," Kelly said.

Kelly and Denise also want to raise awareness about breast cancer in men.

In 2020, Susan G. Komen estimates there will be more than 2,600 new breast cancer diagnoses and 520 deaths.

"Men get breast cancer too. We learned the hard way as a family of what this disease does to people," Kelly said.

"Men, get checked. Dad thinks he waited too long," Denise said.

Denise said there have been advances since her dad's passing, and she and her family will continue to support Komen's mission to fund more research and find a cure.

"They do have their own mammogram machines now. They're coming out with their own breast cancer ribbon. I'm hoping they'll do more testing on the chemo drugs they use. Because, like I said, my dad, he didn't know," Dennise said. 

You can check breast cancer symptoms and resources here

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