Breast cancer advocate dies after battle with illness

Peter Devereaux, former Marine and Golden Gloves boxer, was a tireless advocate for breast cancer awareness. The 52-year-old succumbed to the disease Thursday.

NORTH ANDOVER — An amazing laugh. Dynamic blue eyes. A smile that lit up the room. These are the things Fiona Maguire will remember about her husband Peter Devereaux, a well-liked Marine and male breast cancer advocate who died Thursday after a six year battle with the illness. He was 52.

“He really had a great, light personality. He liked everyone. He was probably the least judgmental person you’d ever meet in your life,” Maguire said. “He never looked at people for money they made, or how they looked,or anything like that.  He was really just a kind man.”

Devereaux became well known as an advocate for breast cancer patients through talks he gave at fundraisers in Greater Boston and beyond. Devereaux was part of the largest group of male breast cancer patients ever recorded: former Marines who were stationed at Camp Lejeune. At the North Carolina base, Marines and their families were exposed to toxic water from at least 1957 to 1987. Devereaux served four years with the Marines beginning when he was 18 and was stationed at Camp Lejeune for 16 months.

 But when he first discovered a lump on his chest in 2008, Devereaux and his family didn’t know that men could get breast cancer. After his diagnosis, Maguire said, doctors often warned Devereaux he would be subjected to methods of treatment that had only been widely studied on women. 

“I think he felt so alone when he was initially diagnosed. There was no one to talk to, no one to ask about their experience,” Maguire said. 

Combined with his giving personality, Devereaux’s isolation contributed to his decision to get involved in raising funds and awareness for cancer patients.

“It was important to him to be there for other men that had been diagnosed. He never wanted anyone to feel alone like he did,” Maguire said. 

Maguire met Devereaux, a Peabody native, in 1991. The two married in 1996. Throughout his life, Devereaux was an athlete. He played basketball, went on long distance runs, and was a Golden Gloves boxing champion. Even more than athletics, Maguire said, Devereaux loved spending time with his loved ones. His 16-year-old daughter, Jackie, is a student at North Andover High School. He is also survived by three sisters and three brothers. 

“He loved nothing more than being with his friends and family. He said to me many times how grateful he was that his family was there for him through this. Neither of us could have done it if we didn’t have our families,” Maguire said. 

Maguire said Devereaux remained positive throughout his fight, even as his options for treatment dwindled, and the cancer spread to his brain.

“He was able to enjoy the summer. He wasn’t in treatment. He wasn’t in and out of Boston. He really enjoyed these past few months with his friends and family,” Maguire said. “He went out the way he wanted to do it and we’re so thankful that we were able to do that for him.”

While Devereaux was always “the spokesperson,” Maguire said the family will continue to raise money to contribute to the causes that meant most to him. She said she feels Devereaux’s advocacy work “changed the landscape” for all breast cancer patients, not only men. She said she would encourage anyone to go to the doctor if they notice a suspicious mass like Devereaux did in 2008. 

“Don’t brush it off, go get it checked out. It probably is nothing, but be on the safe side. Reach out. There is help. There are support groups,” she said. “You have to be your own advocate, get second opinions, go to a bigger hospital that offers clinical trials, and just pursue it.”

Calling hours will be Sunday from 2 to 6 p.m. at Conte Funeral Home, 17 Third St., North Andover with a funeral Mass Monday at 10 a.m. at St. Michael’s Church, North Andover. Burial will follow at St. Mary’s Cemetery, Salem, Mass.