When I hear that Senator Edward Brooke or the former drummer from Kiss have male breast cancer, I have mixed feelings. Part of me is sympathetic toward their plight of course. It's an "Orphan Disease" worthy of much more research, fundraising and public visibility. On the other hand, celebrity creates interest. And interest no doubt spawns knowledge. So, these recognizable faces bring with them a peculiar disease; one that gets our attention by virtue of its rarity.
Scientists have long studied the reasons that celebrities seem to carry some sort of voice of authority and trust from the public who adores them. Most psychologists say it's perfectly normal since humans are social creatures. We live in a world where it has been useful to pay attention to the people at the top of their chosen fields. And all of our enthrallment has been feverishly fed by social media and technology.
And that's OK with me. Whatever it takes to bring our rare form of cancer into mainstream conversation seems like a good idea – so long as it's a positive message.
Since becoming a male breast cancer advocate pretty much since the day I was diagnosed, just short of five years back, I've seen support for men begin to blossom – or at least sprout. The Male Breast Cancer Coalition in New York was formed the same year as my mastectomy in 2014. And now there are a variety of other groups on Facebook and Twitter, along with informal fellowships and blogs on internet sites around the world. I work with and am supported by a powerful alliance of guys in Australia, so our brotherly bond reaches far beyond the banks of our own continent.
But make no mistake. We are still a small piece of the proverbial pie when it comes to breast cancer awareness. There is a pink connection that influences everything we do, and naturally it's the overwhelming numbers of women diagnosed with the disease who create this disparity between male and female breast cancers. It's no fault of theirs, of course. I wholeheartedly support the women with breast cancer. But it will take some more work and unfortunately, a few more "celebrity" men with my disease to kick the world view of male breast cancer up a notch.
In the meantime, we do our best to support the 2,670 new guys who are diagnosed with breast cancer each year while recognizing and honoring the 500 or so who die. Naturally it's going to take a lot more than a few well-known men with my disease to stir a good splash of blue into the pink paint pot of breast cancer. It will require the incessant ambition from guys to add their voices to the mix. It will take Time, Information, Dedication and Education to influence what I like to call the changing "T.I.D.E." of male breast cancer.
And it is changing.
We may not have the conventions or conferences to gather lots of male breast cancer survivors together in one place, or the sponsors and pharmaceuticals to support our fundraisers, but we've prepared for something that is much more formidable and promising than that. We've rolled up our pant legs and stepped boldly into the turbulence of that changing tide. And from there we will keep a steadfast and dedicated vigil to inform and educate – until our ship comes in.