After being freshly diagnosed in 2014 with a rare disease known as male breast cancer, my first uncertain thoughts were about my future and my immediate family. “How would this affect them?” I had to ask myself. Today, having shared my story with lots of survivors through writing and speaking about breast cancer in both men and women, I’ve learned that this is a typical reaction to the news that cancer has invaded our lives and our bodies.
Naturally, our attention is focused on devising a plan of action, informing our loved ones of our diagnosis, struggling with insurance and hospital bills and medications and developing strategies for staying alive. And this is true for both women and men.
But sooner or later, we may realize that we’re not alone, and we likely align with a group of people who share our particular form of cancer. And that’s when the breadth of our cancer view begins to broaden, and we move into another level of survival. We become family members with strangers we may never meet, and yet we feel a kinship because we share a specific type of cancer. And we finally have a name for it that doesn’t belong only to us. The isolation we feel has a chance to expand. And for a lot of us, the real healing starts here.
But some dissimilarities are difficult to reconcile. The words “breast cancer” more often than not conjure up the thought of a woman with a life-threatening disease. Think of the word “football” and I doubt that a female image appears in your mind. Conditioning, after all, plays an important role in how we see the world. And like it or not, it takes a good deal of effort to amend such notions that are so deeply rooted in our observations of the world around us.
But at least we have our group of fellow cancer survivors to relate to, and that can be a very good thing. But then, at some future date which is different for all of us, we might manifest an even bigger picture of cancer, at a global level, as it affects some 14 million people every year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
And perhaps then, in the enormity of the realization that this life threatening disease of ours is gigantic and prevalent and worldwide, yet another stage of understanding takes place. Our localized life-threatening disease is suddenly illuminated through a global light and the message becomes: I am. I am me. I am we. We are one.
The idea of "Think globally, act locally" urges people to consider the health of the entire planet and to take action in their own communities and cities. Long before governments began enforcing environmental laws, individuals were coming together to protect habitats and the organisms that live within them. These efforts are referred to as grassroots efforts. “Think globally, act locally” works for breast cancer, too. And the concept of enlarging our efforts and our thoughts to support all who know the ravages of breast cancer is certainly something we can celebrate this month and beyond. And truly, that’s the real story to be shared in October, or any month of the year for that matter. We really can unite as one group, with one disease, supporting the ongoing research to eliminate cancer in breasts. All breasts. Male and female. Everywhere.