I often use metaphors to think about my unusual form of cancer and to help explain it to others. As an example, I think male breast cancer is like the local "Mom and Pop" store in the cancer neighborhood.
Those of us guys who make up the 1 percent of breast cancer survivors can’t compete with the "Mega Stores of Cancer" the big name diseases that most of us hear about that are most likely to benefit from the research and science that goes in to making them survivable.
And, I understand this. Research follows the numbers and the numbers follow the money. If you’re shopping for a cancer therapy or even a cure, the competition from the big superstores (the most common cancers) is both attractive and alluring. Said simply, they have the market cornered.
Men with breast cancer are faced with a certain amount of isolation in a huge cancer community that does not even include a reliable therapeutic protocol designed specifically for men, but uses the same standards approved for women with breast cancer to treat our disease. Some might see us as men with a "woman’s disease." This observation, incorrect as it is, is based on a series of assumptions and social judgments that are difficult to discard. The fact is most people, men and women, don’t know that males can even develop breast cancer.
We are an understandable minority in sheer numbers. We are understudied, underfunded, overlooked and often unrecognized. But, like every minority, we have begun to find the power in ourselves, these brethren who understand that we have the ability and the obligation to take our tiny market off the side street of a small town presence and move into larger quarters. We may not be able to partner with the big pharmaceutical companies and research facilities who study and fund the common cancers, but we can hang up our storefront sign, make our mini-mart of cancer a friendly, earnest, honest, hopeful and powerful place to visit, and in time we will have our own dedicated group of supporters and the recognition we need to expand and grow.
Remember, Nike Inc., one of the largest, most well-known shoe and apparel companies in the world, was founded with just $1,200 in the bank. Likewise, entrepreneurs Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield started selling their ice cream at a converted gas station in Burlington, Vermont, in May of 1978. Today, the Ben and Jerry’s brand is sold in every U.S. state and more than 30 countries around the world.
Male breast cancer survivors are building, slowly but deliberately, a framework with which to share our presence and our significance in the world of cancer. If you think of it as being like a new business in a new building, I imagine it as a sleek and modern structure, a skyscraper of health and healing that can be seen from far across the city, a blue flag waving brilliantly at its apex.
And, its purpose is not to outshine, outsell or outsmart the more than 100 kinds of cancers that deserve our attention, but rather to share information and support; to contribute to the pool of knowledge and to champion the research and science that is our method of discovery and a possible cure.
Its objective, this little store of ours, is to give the men who shop here — the few thousand men like me — a home and a base from which to unite with the goal of improving our lives while being of service to the many guys who are newly diagnosed with male breast cancer.
If I knew anything about investing I would say "buy stock in us now!" We have plans for expansion, and although we may not have the biggest building on the street, we’ve got every reason to invest in our future.
"They call us dreamers — but we’re the ones who don’t sleep."