Today’s New York Times Science Times section had a very interesting article written by Tara Parker-Poe about Male breast cancer. As her opening line of the article went, “Breast cancer is not always pink.”
She wrote about a photography series recently mounted that feature the faces and scars of men with breast cancer. The photos by David Jay consist of a series of mostly black and white images that unabashedly show the physical devastation of breast cancer.
For some of you the concept that men get breast cancer is a new idea. Yes, it is true, men do get breast cancer, in very small numbers compared to women, but for the man with breast cancer it is equally devastating. You could argue with this point because our society puts much greater value and emphasis on female breasts than male breasts. However, for many men having breast cancer carries a negative stigma.
In addition, breast cancer research is almost exclusively performed on women. Treatments for men with breast cancer are actually the same as for women; treatment protocols do not take into consideration hormonal differences, etc. And then there is the embarrassment factor, not a scientific thing, but a very real and potentially devastating factor.
For me, Parker-Pope’s article was especially timely. In my face-to-face advanced prostate cancer support group last Thursday I had invited a new group member to join us, a man with breast cancer who had a mastectomy. He had told me that he is desperately searching for other men like him with breast cancer, but has not yet found one man willing to talk with him.
His story reminded me of my feelings seven years ago when as a very young man I found out that I had metastatic prostate cancer. It was as if I was the only man under 75 years of age with advanced prostate cancer.
When I was diagnosed with Melanoma I decided on using a particular surgeon, but this doctor was also a breast surgeon. When I called to make an appointment I had to fight with the appointment clerk because she kept telling me that his office was located in the breast clinic and I would be very unhappy sitting there and waiting for my appointment time.
I invited this new cancer survivor to join us at the group, we all have a serious cancer and we all are looking for ways to improve and extend our life, he is no different. Our group will need to find ways to help our new brother be comfortable in his skin.
The photographic exhibit is an excellent way to inform that men do get breast cancer and that male breast cancer does need research. Having one cancer does not convey immunity to developing another, look at me, I have four primary cancers.
It also says that men, like ladies, you should not ignore a lump, bump, discoloration , discharge or change in your breast. These are important signs that should never be ignored.
All the pictures in the collection can be viewed by clicking here.
Joel T. Nowak, M.A., M.S.W.
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