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How I battle the beast of breast cancer.
Halloween has always been my favorite holiday. Despite the zombies, vampires, witches and ghosts that symbolize the celebration, there is a kind of trust and confidence that we, as children, learn to identify with in the face of all that spookiness.
Somehow the sight of gruesome and disfigured beings loses its power, and we learn to accept the harmlessness of the horror.
So why is it that I am still sometimes reluctant to show my mastectomy scar at our public pool? I realize that being a man with breast cancer, as far as the social and emotional responses go, is very different than being a woman, so I can only speak of my own experience here. I have never felt personally self-conscious about my missing left breast, and I talk openly and even passionately about breast cancer to everyone who expresses an interest, but I sometimes fall into the trap of assuming that other people are uncomfortable with what might be seen as my "disfigurement."
As a longtime practitioner of Zen Meditation, I know all too well how our minds can spin off in an instant, diverted by our assumptions, projections and misconceptions.
And yet, I have other's feelings to consider. A mastectomy scar, even on a man, is still capable of creating discomfort in some people.
One of the top three fears that many cancer survivors have in common is the fear of being stigmatized as a "cancer person."
It's a brand that carries with it a great deal of negative thought. And yet we can open our door to a herd of monstrous "Trick or Treaters" with broken teeth and missing limbs, and reward them with sweet gifts. It's an interesting incongruity.
I suppose that doctors and surgeons are adept at seeing the unkind side of cancer over and over, until that too becomes an acceptable — and possibly even welcomed – part of their daily experience.
But still, I remain sensitive to my beliefs about people I meet at the pool. There are certainly moments when reminding folks that breast cancer in men is real may not be all that helpful. And yet, I openly share my image whenever I see even the smallest chance to help others become aware of this disease.
Perhaps that's the real issue. Any crusade or campaign that hopes to make an impact at a national or world-wide level is bound to provoke or inspire, disturb or arouse at any given time. As an example, male breast cancer is both rare and overlooked, even by doctors who fail to advise men to regularly check their breasts. You'll often see us shirtless and determined on our various web sites and in magazine articles, making the case that "men have breasts too." There's something vastly more powerful in seeing a dozen men baring their chests and sharing their breast cancer story, than in observing an old guy at the pool.
As both men and women strive to bring the plight of having cancer of the breast into public view, the sight of our various surgical scars certainly garners the attention needed to push our quest for a cure forward with the urgency it deserves. And unlike the skeletons and goblins at our door on Halloween night, I'm hopeful that we never get too comfortable with the real carnage of breast cancer.