A male breast cancer survivor learns the true meaning of the word "advocate."
I recently spent a week in a classroom with 60 amazing women. We all arrived in San Diego from a number of states around the nation and as far away as Australia to study, advocate for and better understand breast cancer; with the goal to one day eliminate breast cancer from our world. That's a big commitment, but it's also a compelling and essential objective.
The activists in that room had every reason to believe that this formidable goal is not only possible but is attainable in the not-too-distant future. Our daily lectures and study groups were percolating with feminine energy as we developed our strategies and rallied our members. We spoke of chromosomes, genes, DNA and molecules. We studied detailed scientific schematics and created images of proteins, viruses and phosphates while mapping the pathways for mitosis and angiogenesis.
Somewhere in that big study hall sat an old guy with one breast and the insatiable hope of learning more about cancer along with its remarkable and highly scientific nomenclature. Cancer as an experience is something that those of us who have it can relate to. But cancer as a disease is an incredibly complex and mystifying voyage into a clinical wonderland, where the magic of our bodies at a cellular level is both breathtaking and confounding. I was grappling with the intricacy of an unseen world in the depths of the human body. And I was honored to have a seat in the classroom.
Project LEAD (leadership, education and advocacy development) is the National Breast Cancer Coalition's premier science training program for breast cancer advocates. The five-day course prepares graduates to engage in a wide-range of local and national forums where breast cancer decisions are made. It's an intense, no-nonsense training program that introduces the latest scientific and medical knowledge with folks who share a serious ambition to bring positive change to a planet that is plagued with disease and disorder. As a man with breast cancer, I arrived through my own desire and with the kind support and encouragement of several key players in the world of both male and female breast cancers, to add another fledgling voice to the mix.
There were no sideways glances nor raised eyebrows as I took my seat each morning for the lectures and lessons that propelled us through the day. Despite the unbalanced ratio of men to women in the room, breast cancer had no gender here. Our objectives were one and the same.
As fate would have it, I was sitting alongside and working with Cheri Ambrose, the co-founder of the Male Breast Cancer Coalition and a personal hero of mine. Together we could sense the power in that room as we felt the momentum of an unstoppable force, intent on finding a cure for this disease that affects both women and men. When we left that place, after five days of rigorous study and discovery, we hoped to slip comfortably into the title of "breast cancer advocate" as our voices and our actions found a new clarity.
Those of us with cancer are already advocates to some degree. If you are a survivor of cancer of any kind, you advocate for yourself every time you see your oncologist and in every decision you make regarding your own health and healing. Like cancer itself, advocacy has a number of stages and grades and wherever we fall on the scale, our input is a valuable and necessary piece of the process for finding a cure — and finding it soon.
Nobody working toward curing cancer is insignificant, and no piece in this cancer puzzle is too small, as all of us must tie our contributions together to design a bigger picture. Like the strands of DNA that captured our imaginations over those five days of study, cancer survivors everywhere are intertwined and moving in unison, intent in our own way, on finding the answer to cancer that works for all of us