When I was diagnosed with male breast cancer in May of 2014, I was suddenly the carrier of a disease that I did not know existed until then. I felt an initial sense of despair and a deep sense of isolation for several weeks. Living in Hawaii, I was 2,500 miles away from my family.
My surgeon in Honolulu was a highly regarded professional on the Island who had been practicing medicine for many years. But she had never performed a mastectomy on a man. She'd done hundreds on women of course, but it was then when I began to sense the built-in separation of my disease. I remember asking about a support group, and being told that there were several for prostate and testicular cancers, but none for guys with breast cancer. There simply weren't enough men to call a "group." It's quite possible, although I can't know for certain, that I was the only male on the Island of Oahu at the time with one breast missing.
I have since come to realize that by making a distinction between men and women with breast cancer back then, I was inadvertently creating the very same rift that plagues men now, four years after my diagnosis. While the treatment for men and women with breast cancer differ (something we really didn't know much about only four years ago), the emotional issues and even the physical aspects of losing one's breasts have some distinct similarities. I wasn't the only one searching for support, inspiration and advice, even if it did feel that way.
And so, the one thing I needed to know more than anything else at that moment became crystal clear to me. And I want to make it clear to anyone else who is new to cancer.
WE ARE NOT ALONE.
Even if you are lulled into feeling that way for a while, it's just not true. If you are new to cancer, and unfortunately the National Cancer Institute predicts that there will be 1,735,350 new cases of cancer diagnosed in the United States in 2018, you'll want to know that there are plenty of "experienced" cancer survivors who are looking for you. In my view, the best thing a cancer survivor can do is to extend a hand to other survivors. None of us asked to be in this club, but there really is strength in numbers. And there is a ton of support just waiting to come to the aid of those with a fresh diagnosis. The minute I started to look beyond the confines of my island in the Pacific, I found lots of help.
There are hundreds of websites committed to aiding new cancer survivors. And many are dedicated to a certain kind of cancer. And there you'll find valuable information and support that is available for all of us facing a life-threatening disease.
Regardless of how you feel about the internet, you'll find many opportunities online to connect with people who have a head start with the cancer experience, and their consultation and experience is likely to be of great value to you. Reaching out is the first step, and it's not always easy when we are first diagnosed. But once the dust settles and you are on your way to recovery, you may be surprised at how many people are ready to help out.
Did you know that you can comment on and add your thoughts to any stories that appear in the Voices section of https://www.curetoday.com/? Everyone is invited to share via the "Forum" section. To my mind, cancer only has the power to isolate us in silence. Here on these pages you'll find lots of conversation, valuable information, inspiration and plenty of helping hands. And here, you're never, ever alone.