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A Man with a Mammogram: Pilot Shares Struggle with Breast Cancer

September 29, 2016

You have cancer.

Per the National Cancer Institute, nearly 40% of men and women will hear those words at some point during their lifetimes.

Mac Holmes first heard it in 2012. It was what came next that shocked him the most.

“My doctor told me I had to go get a mammogram,” said Mac, a FedEx pilot. “I remember my wife Robin and I looked at each other in disbelief. A man with a mammogram?”

Mac Holmes QuoteMac spent 28 years in the Air Force as a Squadron Commander and has been with FedEx since 1993. He’s flown all over the world, from São Paulo to Singapore, cherishing every moment. He’s seen it all, or at least he thought he had.

When Mac found out he had breast cancer, he was stunned. Male breast cancer accounts for less than one percent of all breast cancer cases, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

It started rather harmlessly with a small lump on his chest.

“I wasn’t too worried because I have lumps all over my body and had been monitored by flight surgeons for years,” Mac said.

This time was different. When Mac’s nipple started to invert, his wife Robin urged him to have it checked out by a doctor. His primary care physician suspected it could be cancer and sent Mac to a local hospital for a mammogram.

“I went over there, and everything was set up for women,” Mac said.

According to, about 1 in 8 women in the United States will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of their lifetime versus 1 in 1,000 men.

Mac Holmes HospitalMac had a mastectomy to remove his left breast. Doctors discovered that the cancer had spread to his lymph nodes, and Mac underwent additional surgery to remove it. At that time, pathology reports indicated that Mac had Stage 2B breast cancer, which is characterized by a large cancer mass that has spread to nearby tissues.

He was only 56 years old at the time, and his family feared the worst.

“They all put it together as I’m going to die,” Mac said. “I told them, ‘I will tell you when to worry. Don’t worry until I tell you.’”

Chemotherapy followed the surgery, along with more tests and a variety of different medications.

While all of this was happening, Mac’s career as an MD-11 pilot was put on hold as he focused on his health and family.

“I was still at FedEx teaching ground school for pilots,” Mac said. “I taught systems and simulators. It was a really good thing for me and kept my mind off of things. I would tell (my colleagues) I had breast cancer to make sure everyone knows about it and to raise awareness. Every time I did, they’d talk to me and hug me and give me that love people need.”

After months of treatment, he received the news he had been waiting to hear ever since the original diagnosis: he was cancer free.

He had won the battle and was ready to fly again, something he had done for half his life. In addition to the love and support of his family, it was this desire to fly again that helped keep Mac going during the tough days.

Mac Holmes Cockpit

“I can still remember the first day Mac put on his FedEx uniform,” Robin said. “He could have flown for anyone, but FedEx was his goal. I could tell by his face and excitement he had reached his career goal. He loves FedEx.”

The relief was short lived. Just 18 months after beating breast cancer for the first time, Mac learned that he had prostate cancer. This time the cancer was minimal, and Mac received proton therapy before again being declared cancer free.

“This was much easier than my breast cancer treatment,” Mac said. “We called my treatment ‘radiation vacation’ because we got to spend six weeks in Houston next to a golf course, visited the Houston Zoo and took day trips to the ocean.”

Even though he had beaten cancer twice already, Mac continued to visit his doctor for regular checkups to ensure the cancer hadn’t returned. The Metastatic Breast Cancer Network estimates that between 20-30 percent of patients diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer later develop metastatic cancer. Metastasis occurs when local cancer cells spread to other parts of the body, most commonly the bones, lungs, liver and brain.

Mac’s doctor noticed that his tumor markers were increasing, indicating the cancer had returned.

“Cancer is mean to everyone,” Mac said. “Breast cancer is a tough disease to handle, and women have been dealing with it for a long time. But it does hit men, too. You need to check yourself. If you ever have a bump or something wrong with your chest, you go get yourself looked at.”

Mac and Robin Holmes

Photo Credit: Charles Fox,

Now diagnosed as Stage 4, Mac’s condition has reached metastasis. He receives hormone therapy and takes daily medications as he continues his fight.

Through the course of his journey, he has become an advocate for breast cancer awareness and metastatic research. He’s worked with Living Beyond Breast Cancer and the Male Breast Cancer Coalition, among other organizations.

Mac continues to research and learn about breast cancer and metastasis in hopes of making a difference for others that are experiencing his fight or will experience it in the future.

“I look at research and the lack of research in the metastatic area,” Mac said. “All other areas are researched and given money except for the research of people that are dying with it. That’s an area that needs to be improved.”

He still hopes to one day fly again.

“I love living,” Mac said. “I love being around people. I love helping people. Every day is a good day.”

In honor of Mac, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam declared Oct. 16 – Oct. 22, 2016 as Male Breast Cancer Awareness Week in the state of Tennessee.

For more information, visit the Metastatic Breast Cancer Alliance website.


    Sid Graham says:

    Keep fighting Mac……I’ve known this guy for years and he is the real deal. Love you brother!

    Carol Anne says:

    Hi Mac,
    Sorry to hear about your battle with cancer. My cousin is struggling with it also. You may try looking up the Budwig Diet on the internet, it’s supposed to help even the worst cases.
    It’s worth a try! Good luck & God Bless!

    Kelly Rouse says:

    I’ve known Mac Holmes all my life. He is the kind of man who enjoys life, has many friends – the life-long kind. We went to school together and he is almost like one of the family – our families kind of mix together because his uncle married my aunt. I hadn’t seen him for years and one day he came in my office when he was flying in and out of Eaker AFB in Blytheville, Arkansas. Still the same old Mac. He’s tough and won’t give up easily. I pray for Mac and others suffering for cancer. So sad bad things happen to good people. Keep fighting!!!!!!!

    Mark Hession says:

    Mac — I miss flying with you brother! I often think about the times we flew over to Stansted and listening to your stories. Those are great memories for me. We all miss you and pray for your healing! You are never alone!

    Deborah Keller says:

    I’ve know Mac & Robin Holmes for many years. Mac is a wonderful person and it an honor to know both of them and the work they are doing for the cause for breast cancer. Wishing the best for Mac in the further and for what he is doing for the research that he is doing, good luck Mac and Robin Holmes….

    Edeline Blackman says:

    Hi Mac, You are a living example of what most of us do not have, “FAITH”, Reading your article made me smile in a serious way. Your words were “My doctor told me I had to go get a mammogram. I remember my wife and I looked at each other in disbelief. A man with a mammogram”? Both my parents died with cancer and a very dear friend as well and for this reason it is personal.I thank you for your courage and your example to both men and women awareness…Keep up the good work. Much success in the future.God bless you and your family. family.

    Sherri Stephens says:

    What an encouraging story and message for others. Captain Mac I was inspired by your story and hope it will inspire others to get annually mammograms. You have a big heart and lots of courage.. The best to you and your family, hope you are back flying soon…Sherri Stephens

    Jackie Jackson says:

    Captain Mac, Thanks for sharing your story with us. As a survivor, I like you, encourage others to take note of bodily changes that could be signs of something serious. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.

    Shaun Jones says:

    What a fighter. He’s had a lot thrown at him & keeps battling. A real inspiration. I just wish FedEx would go PINK every October.

    Shaun Jones says:

    What an inspiration to never give up & keep battling !! I just wish FedEx would go PINK every October.

    Angela Holland says:

    Fight on my fellow breast cancer survivor. This is a hard disease on men and women and can lead to Prostate Cancer in men if the gene is present. I never knew this until I was diagnosed with Stage 3 Triple Negative Breast Cancer 7 years ago. Now my boys and daughter will all have to be screened earlier for the disease. You are in my prayers fellow warrior.

    Roxie Wheeler says:

    Mac, thank you for sharing your story with everyone. Men need to know that this disease can strike them as well. I’m sorry to read of your recurrence and will hold you in my thoughts and prayers.

    I am a survivor as well (also diagnosed in 2012) and had a 22 lymph nodes removed at the time of my mastectomy. Unfortunately I developed lymphedema within 2 months of my surgery. You remain at risk for this side effect and I encourage you to take the necessary precautions which include wearing compression garments whenever you fly. You have enough to deal with already you don’t want to have to handle lymphedema as well.

    Hang in there!

    Johnnie Frazier says:

    You certainly did inspire me with your story and I do thank you for sharing it. I pray that you continue to be blessed in your struggle for a cure which only a real trooper/fighter can endure.

    Ginger Ross says:

    Mac thanks for taking that leap of faith and sharing your story. I will join you in spreading the difficulty of developing metastasis to others in hopes of finding a cure. FedEx has a lot of love to share, so know that we are with you in this battle. Ginger

    Larry Klawinski says:

    Thinking about Mac. Keep up the fight. I am on your team my friend.

    Chad Higdon says:

    For those who haven’t worked with Mac … he approached his work in the cockpit and the schoolhouse with the same AWESOME attitude. Awesome pilot and instructor … but an amazing guy!

    Keep it up Mac! Hope to see ya soon!


    Danny Iluobe says:

    Great story,
    The headline on the home page “A Man with a Mammogram: FedEx Express Pilot Shares Struggle with Breast Cancer” grasped me as a fiction initially until I read Mac’s story. Thank God for the outcome and for creating awareness for all men. You are an inspiration to the FedEx family and breast cancer survival.


    Gwendolyn Taylor-Little says:

    Hello Mac, your subject caught my attention. Thanks for sharing your story with the FedEx family. Many members of my family have came in contact the this disease, so I know what your family is going through. Be strong and keep up the fight. I will keep you and your family in my prayers.

    Kris McDaniel says:

    Hello Mac, I applaude you. You are a very strong MAN. I pray that there will be a cure one day for this diease. My sister had breast cancer and she beat it. You will beat it. The Battle is not yours its the Lord. Hang in there. I hope that Fedex will one day GO PINK FOR EMPLOYEES. You all need to be HONORED. I too celebrate every year for breast cancer but this year when I walk I will walk for you and my sister.

    Davin Lammey says:

    I flew with Mac for many years as a Flight Engineer on the C-141 at the Tn. Air Guard in Memphis and he was instrumental in helping me start my career at FedEx. A fine man,fine pilot and one heck of a fighter against cancer. Keep it up the great fight Mac!

    Regina Watson says:

    I to am a Breast cancer Survivor and know many men with breast cancer hide the fact since it has been considered a woman’s cancer. Cancer is Cancer and it is a Sisterhood and Brotherhood for those of us that continue to fight and Pray for a cure. You are an Inspiration and being an advocate may save other men’s lives that had no idea about Male Breast Cancer. You are already flying high in my book. I do believe you will also fly a plane again.

    Cindy Johnson says:

    Captain Mac, I long for the day when no one will say “I am sick.” My hope is that you too live to see it.

    Avis Brown-Riley says:

    I to am a Breast Cancer Survivor and have been Cancer Free for 6 1/2 years. I am an Operations Manager for FedEx and a Professional Golfer and looking forward to sharing The Avis Brown-Riley Golf Extravaganza around the World. I’m also sharing my story about my experience with the big “C” as guest speaker in upcoming events. Continue to pray and lets fight for a cure. Keep up the great work with creating awareness and being a Inspiration to The FedEx Family.

    Anniette Bryant says:

    Captain Mac, my Flight Ops, and Breast Cancer Brother I truly understand your battle being a survivor myself. Your story is very inspiring…remember 95% of your healing is attitude, faith, the love support of family, frineds, and It sounds like you have all those things in order. When life gives you lemons make lemonade and don’t forget the sugar or throw them back really really hard! (Bless You)

    Berdotha Brooks says:

    I thanks you for your good word of hope”my sister have breast cancer,she beat it also ,thank again your fedex family

    Daniel Smith says:

    My prayers are with you and your family. I am well aware of Male Breast Cancer as my three sons all carry the BRACA 1&2 mutation gene which puts them at higher risk for Breast Cancer. You are correct when you say every day is a good day. Love, Laugh & Live.

    Punam Singh says:

    Hat’s off Captain Mac, You are the real fighter.I wish you live long………

    Mark Cardwell says:

    Mac, your bravery and positive attitude doesn’t surprise anyone who has the pleasure of knowing you. Keep up the good fight, you are a winner!

    John Hunt says:

    You are an extraordinary Man my Dear Friend!! Inspiration to all and a clear voice of wisdom. I am certainly privileged to have hired you back in the day and I look very much forward to jump seating again with you if you stay on the MD11. Shoot… When you return, plan on the 777 and we’ll fly together!!!!!! Love you Brother. You are a gift. Tex

    Dan Ferracciolo says:

    You were my ” student” once Mac, but it it was I who did all of the learning that day. God bless you and your family..I will happily be your FO anytime…

    Denis Bonderud says:

    Mac! Keep fighting Brother! Love being able to call you Friend!

    Cyndi Berwyn says:

    Keep fighting Mac – we sure miss seeing you in the schoolhouse.

    John "Weebs" Wiebener says:

    First met Mac when he taught MD-11 Ground School in the fall of 2005. He was my hero then, he’s my hero now. Hope somehow he wins this battle as he has won many in the past. Mac – you’ve got a lot of people pulling for you!!

    Todd Menning says:

    Keep fighting Mac, your a great man.

    sue says:

    Hey Mac hang in your fighter also try drinking wheat grass juice available at boosters juice store, I know a friend who was diagnosed cancer free after drinking this for six months straight twice a day on empty stomach google it up might be for you, god bless you

    Bruce Service says:

    Mac, I was one of your many nameless MD-11 ground school students back in 2007. Your good natured but very thorough instruction made all the difference and was an inspiration.
    And you continue to inspire!

    Nathan Pate says:

    Keep fighting Mac! All of us FedEx and the Guard are praying for you. You are as good as they get my friend. I hope to fly with you soon.

    Veronica Cruz says:

    Keep up the fight Mac. Thank you for sharing your story and I will keep you and your family in my prayers.

    Dave Chase says:

    Thinking of you Mac! I always enjoyed flying together and look forward to doing so again!

    Todd Allen says:

    You inspired me as a young enlisted troop way back in the day. You continue to inspire through your work and in particular, this fight. Our thoughts and prayers are with you, my friend. Hurry back! I miss the unique “flair” you bring to the classroom and flight deck!

    Brian Flax says:

    Mac, you are an inspiration on MANY levels. I miss seeing you around FedEx and hope and pray that you’ll be back soon! Hang in there.

    Ed Carney says:

    Mac, leave it to you to make lemonade out of such lemon juice. I’m not at all surprised, though, having known you for a long time. You’re a great friend and human being, and I’m proud to know you. We’re all on your team.

    Ray Para says:

    You are an inspiration for all of us, a fighter, and a great friend. See you at Starbucks!

    Judge Wappner says:

    Although I haven’t been privileged to fly with you yet, I can say, “Thanks for the ground schooling several years ago”. My prayers are well past “rotate” and headed your way.

    Jan Tunks says:

    Our family knows what you and your family are going through as my Father in Law developed breast cancer as well. Your story sounded like his story and made me smile when I remembered him laughing at the other women’s expressions when they saw him come out in the robe. God bless you and your family and there definitely needs to be more public awareness on male breast cancer!

    Theresa Reed says:

    od Bless You! Keep that fighting spirit. You are an inspiration to many including me 🙂

    Theresa Reed says:

    May GOD bless you, heal you, and keep you safe 🙂

    Debbie Jones says:

    Mac is my cousin and as special as can be to my family. Mac’s dad was my father’s brother. Mac has always been their when family needs him through happy times and sad. Everyone please push for more studies to cure this disease.

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