I received the news that I had male breast cancer on May 11, 2014. I was alone when I heard that life changing diagnosis; on the telephone, picking up my messages.
One Word Can Change Everything I sat with the news of my breast cancer for a few moments before calling my wife on the phone. As we spoke, I reached up and put my hand to my chest; my left breast, and tried to imagine what had gone wrong inside there. I took a deep, tenuous breath as I glanced at the clock. But the time of day had no relevance. There was no place familiar in that instant for me to hold on to and nothing in the future that was certain. Time had stopped. I felt frozen in my tracks.
What’s it Like to be a Man With Breast Cancer? Many people think of breast cancer as being a “woman’s disease”. The simple truth is, men have breasts and breast cancer in men, though exceedingly rare, does happen. The odds of a man contracting cancer of the breast when I was diagnosed were about 1000 to 1. Those are roughly the same odds as a person accidentally drowning in any given year. And indeed, I felt like I was suffocating, treading water in a sea of unknowns.
With Cancer, Good Timing is Everything Generally speaking, males find it more difficult to speak up when we find a body part out of whack. Diagnosis and treatment procedures are disconcerting for many men as well, and guys are more likely to attribute a symptom such as a breast lump to some other cause. By the time many male breast cancers are discovered, they are often already at an advanced stage. I was fortunate to catch mine early. A routine checkup by my primary care physician revealed a tiny bump on my left breast. I was scheduled for a mammogram the next day, followed by an ultra sound and needle biopsy a few days later, and I was in surgery for a mastectomy less than thirty days after that conversation. The swiftness of those events by my sharp-eyed doctor probably saved my life.
Taking Charge of Our Disease I was determined to take an active role in my own health and healing while helping the other men who were certain to follow in my footsteps. I began writing about my experience and became a breast cancer advocate, speaking to audiences of both women and men who had breast cancer too. After all, we may be divided in our anatomy, but in the end, breast cancer is a genderless disease.
So, What Can Men Do? Guys have to take matters into their own hands. Literally. We need to get used to feeling our chests and under our arms regularly, keeping an eye out for any unusual changes, no matter how innocuous they may seem. Thirty seconds in the shower should do the trick. And we ought to get comfortable with the fact that we are ageing. And as we age, we open ourselves to changes in our bodies. Men comprise a small group with this disease, but working together, men and women are busting through breast cancer.
Khevin Barnes is a retired stage magician and musician, health journalist and playwright. He lives with his wife and cats in Vail, Arizona and regularly writes about cancer and other health-related issues.