This massive event for women with breast cancer just may be “man’s breast friend”.
It’s a brisk Monday morning in San Antonio, Texas. I’m sitting at a small hardtop table, just inside the entrance of the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, outside on the busy street the usual Monday hustle and bustle of a large city is unfolding. But here, just inside the immense glass walls that frame this super-sized building with over a million square feet of display space, there is an eerie calm as hundreds of workers and volunteers prepare for the arrival of 7,500 participants in what is certain to be a breast cancer convention of epic proportions, the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium.
It’s no surprise that most of the attendees with breast cancer will be women. They represent a large population of survivors who have traveled from more than eighty countries to participate. As I pause, silently watching the technicians hauling lights, and signs, and endless table drapes, no one is aware of me sitting here, writing, watching, and waiting. And of course, nobody has a clue that under my shirt is a chest with a single remaining healthy breast.
After all, when you see the words “Breast Cancer” it isn’t likely that the image of a man will manifest. And rightfully so, since just 1% of all breast cancers are diagnosed in men, and that’s why we’re here of course. When I say “we” I am referring to all 7,500 of us.
We are, after all, talking about breast cancer in a broad sense; listening to non-stop lectures regarding the prevention, detection, and eradication of the disease. All of us can relate to this since the art of surviving cancer, in general, is the same for men and women. But evidence suggests that men respond differently to some traditional therapies, and so the significance for guys at a gathering such as this one, while generally encouraging and definitely positive, remains uncertain.
Regardless of that, I’m here to encourage the inclusion of men in the knowledge-base of the disease both by the public and by the oncologists who treat this cancer, and perhaps even more importantly, by the primary care providers who have yet to make it a regular habit to remind guys to check their breasts.
The good news is that this new trend in breast cancer recognition is beginning to take hold. Better still are the reports of promising advances in both science and medicine that offer better survival rates for the many women in attendance; statistics that will almost certainly benefit the guys who are, in a sense, along for the ride.
Helping to increase the visibility for men here is Peggy Miller, the mother of Bret Miller who is the co-founder of the Male Breast Cancer Coalition. She has arrived to host a booth and answer questions for the multitudes of attendees, joined by a long-time advocate and champion for the cause, Pat Washburn who lost her husband to male breast cancer. Powerful voices don’t always require large crowds to make changes in the world. But the crowds are already here—in the form of 7,500 attendees.
As I watch the throngs of conventioneers arriving, it seems to me that the only real challenge in the week ahead is to share a simple yet fervent message of hope, and support, for the many women seeking answers to so many different breast cancer questions. All while we respectfully remind the many physicians, researchers, clinicians, and advocates here that men have breasts too.