MALE BREAST CANCER—A SELF SUPPORTING PARTNERSHIP
Lacking the pageantry and recognition of other cancers, guys are taking matters into their own hands.
By Khevin Barnes
Forget for moment that I am a man writing about breast cancer. The reason I ask this of you is that breast cancer in men is still such a nebulous and misinterpreted disease that those of us who have it are caught in a bit of a conundrum. On one hand our numbers might be better served if the gender distinction were minimized somewhat, since the thought of male breasts is difficult to objectify or even envision by many. Male breasts simply don’t carry the significance that society has bestowed on the female variety. Perhaps if breast cancer in both men and women were thought of as a single disease, the world would see to it that all are served in research, funding, and education. But it isn’t.
It’s a disease that is unique to men, despite the fact the most of the forms we fill out when we seek treatment still ask us questions like “What was the date of our last menstrual cycle?”
On the other hand, it is exactly this disparity that invites guys to make waves in the ocean of misconception that’s out there. We want to be seen as a distinct group of cancer survivors in order to change the thinking of the medical establishment, the drug designers and the general population.
All around me in the world of breast cancer, I’m still seeing residual flashes of pink, leftover confetti and miles of plastic garlands, rolled up and being stashed away for a year—the remains of October’s month-long crash course in female breast cancer awareness. I’m very happy for female breast cancer survivors, particularly the women who benefit from the research and assistance that this annual pageant drums up.
And I’ve vocalized, along with other men, the idea of a month of “blue” to bring our cancer to the forefront for a time; to give a boost to our need for more research, more preventative action, more clinical trials that include males and perhaps even a touch more promotion to increase the visibility of our message.
From what I can see, most of us with male breast cancer are more interested in getting the news out than we are in pulling the world in. Sure, we need a cure as much as anyone else, but the fact is we are a minority group suffering from an orphan disease and that probably won’t change overnight.
But it will change.
And the reason for that is because we aren’t going to go away. We are determined and united in our “quest of the male breast” and this unusual cancer that alienates, stigmatizes, disfigures and much too often kills us in the process.
So what’s to be done? (I hate to stir up the water without offering a life-jacket of sorts).
Here’s one suggestion. We must become, at least for the time being, a self-sustaining, self-motivating, self-reliant group of selfless men who continue to support the sharing of cancer awareness in EACH AND EVERY BREAST, knowing all the while that even though we are but 1% of the breast cancer population, we are half of the deserving; half of the caring and half of the worthy.
Cancer must never be broken down into unequal parts based on gender or number or the colors pink and blue.
The fact is men with breast cancer might actually know more about the disease than the average primary care giver, and perhaps even more than the oncologists who routinely work where the majority of breast cancer lies—with women. This isn’t surprising since many physicians still don’t remind men to check their breasts. We’ve had to do the work on our own. And we owe it to ourselves and our families and to those men who come after us to continue our advocacy until the message becomes clear.
In the meantime, the business of male breast cancer moves onward and upward in an ever expanding circle of significance. And we’re more than willing to do the groundwork on our own behalf, supported by men’s breast cancer organizations that form the cornerstone of our community. The hope is that our message will grow and multiply much quicker than our members.