Getting men to talk about their breast health is like fishing in an under-stocked pond, so I turn to the advice of my breast cancer sisters.
Breast cancer in men is rare. Along with the scarcity that my disease is saddled with comes a subdued sense of direction and all too often, a rather confusing stream of information. Make no mistake, we’ve come a long way in the nearly eight years since my own diagnosis and mastectomy, but much of that has been in the realm of the interactions between men and the ongoing conversations that trickle out ever so slowly in hopes of finding and helping another brother in need. And guys are loath to share much information about their breasts. It’s a bit like fishing in an under-stocked pond.
Once my breast cancer was firmly established in my life, I began the process of searching for others like me with the hope of devising a plan to survive. In those early days, my questions and concerns went pretty much unanswered.
But I wasn’t deterred.
In my experience, living with breast cancer is much less a breast issue than it is a cancer issue. With my cancer, the point of origin was in my former left breast of course, but the bigger story lies in the nearly 290,000 human beings – most of them women – who will likely be diagnosed in the US this year, according to the American Cancer Society. Less than 1% of those diagnoses will be in men. Numbers don’t lie and it’s with the women that both the numbers and the experience occur.
My surgeon, a woman of notable expertise in the state of Hawaii, was the first to inspire me to develop a broader view of breast cancer. I never felt unnoticed in her presence. My oncologist of choice was another woman, and when she retired to spend more time with her young children I asked for and found another female oncologist to guide me through my breast cancer expedition.
And it wasn’t just the sheer numbers of cases seen in women that influenced my choice in cancer care; it was the care that I received. The fact is, with the huge numbers of women who are treated for breast cancer each year, there is also an enormous amount of research and personal testimonials from them that address the “cancer experience” as a whole. While there are distinct differences between male and female breasts, the issues of survival, the need for connection, the concerns for our families and friends, the fears and frustrations we face and the comfort of finding some commonality in our quest to survive—these are some of the benefits of seeing breast cancer beyond the breast.
Women relate to health and healing differently than men. I want to be careful about generalizations here, but in my eight years of reading and writing about this disease, I have found much more usable information regarding the simple, day-to-day survival techniques from—you guessed it, women.
If you are a man who is new to breast cancer, you just might find some useful and encouraging information in the experiences of those who know this disease best. Nobody knows it better than our breast cancer sisters.
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