MALE BREAST CANCER
By Khevin Barnes
As a man with breast cancer, I get a lot of questions, since it's a relatively rare occurrence. After all, the odds of a male contracting breast cancer are 1000 to 1.
To put that in perspective, imagine that you have a giant container filled with 999 white socks.......single socks......socks without mates. And according to my wife that's just about the number I have.
Now let’s add to that box of socks, one red sock.
So you have a box with 1000 socks and 999 are white-- and one is red. Mix them up and reach in and remove a single random sock. The odds of you choosing that one red sock are pretty slim.
1000 to 1 in fact.
People ask, how is it that some guy, a man, male, a dude can make it his life's ambition to travel about and talk to rooms full of women about their breasts.
Not a bad job description if you ask me.
Seriously though (and I try not to remain too serious about my cancer) the truth is we are all mammals by virtue of the fact that we have mammary glands. The first mammals are thought to have evolved about 190 million years ago living along side of dinosaurs. When the dinosaurs disappeared the mammals began to diversify into many forms, so now we have about 4500 different species of mammal living in oceans, fresh water, below ground, in the trees and in the sky.
So all mammals have mammary glands that, in the case of females, produce milk.
Until we reach puberty, male and female human breasts are pretty much identical. And then estrogen, in the case of women, takes over and things change dramatically.
It probably won't surprise you know that many mountain ranges around the world are named after the breast since they resemble breasts in appearance which have always been the objects of religious significance as a fertility symbol and wellbeing.
It’s not surprising either that many of these mountain ranges were named by lonely men. Grand Tetons Mountain range in Wyoming for example is said it have been named by French Canadian trappers who spent many long winter months alone and in the wild.
So my work as a breast cancer presenter and as a human mammal isn't about men or women or breasts.
It's about cancer.
It's about us and our friends and family, spouses and partners; our children and neighbors who are undeniably impacted by our disease. Cancer you see is never a solo journey. Even though it may feel that way sometimes.
But mostly my mission as a breast cancer survivor and speaker is about hope. And it's about imagination and creativity in our methods of coping with our cancer, and it's about the magic of the human spirit and it's about laughter in the face of adversity.
Cancer. The very word triggers a good deal of emotion in many people. It's a supercharged word that carries with it a lot of thoughts and ideas, most of them not so good. And so, I have decided that cancer will have a very different meaning for me from now on.
It can mean many things to many people. To me it means:
“Cancel All Negative Conditioned Emotional Responses.”
Conditioned responses are those thoughts we have that are automatic. “Cancer is bad. Chocolate is good.” And so on. It's also what we call a conditioned reflex. It's part of being human. As an example, someone might experience the negative side effects of Chemotherapy on a friend or relative and decide that “chemotherapy is bad”. And whether something is good or bad is just a thought we have.
And so when we are diagnosed with cancer, there is a lot of stuff in the form of ideas rushing about in our heads, and we add even more madness to it by getting a bunch of mixed opinions from different doctors. To get a clear view of our options then, it becomes imperative that we “cancel all negative conditioned emotional responses”.
And when I do that, I remember to return to simply living in the now. In this present moment. After all, when and if things happen to us, that is the time to respond. This is easy to say of course but it requires the utmost attention and vigilance to implement. And with a bit of practice, we can actually live fully day to day, minute by minute.
Cancer will do what it must. In living fully moment by moment we aren't ignoring
our disease. We aren't pushing away the reality of our condition. We are simply allowing our bodies to heal in their own way, and trusting that the outcome will be perfect—just as it is.
Many of us with cancer have learned to refocus our lives to reflect on what is important to us. Finding reasons to live, to engage our passions and renew our reverence for life on Earth is a powerful part of our journey. And it's in sharing my own cancer adventure with others, through storytelling, stage magic, music and writing that I find the inspiration to travel onward.
I hope to see you along the path.
Khevin Barnes is a certified Laughter Yoga teacher, breast cancer survivor and activist who travels and speaks about Male Breast Cancer. The mission of the program is to bring perspective, information and entertainment to women and men with cancer.
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