With the national media blitz and thousands of corporate sponsors reminding us to "go pink," it's little wonder that we may be feeling glassy-eyed as we try to absorb all the information coming at us when it comes to the war on breast cancer.
Even with all the "pink" hype and the corresponding caution we hear from advocacy groups such as Breast Cancer Action ("Think Before You Pink"), it is time well spent to increase our awareness of breast cancer whenever possible. This doesn't mean we need to buy everything in sight with a pink ribbon slapped on the packaging, nor does it mean that we have to inundate our legislators with petitions screaming for bans on cancer causing chemicals in our environment (although this can't hurt). Awareness can take many different forms, and sometimes it's the unsung heroes that open our eyes to the magnitude of this disease.
Take, for instance, male breast cancer. We all know it's possible. We may even know a man who's had breast cancer (if he's courageous enough to share that information). But by and large, our "awareness" of breast cancer in men slips under the radar. Why? Partly because of the low incidence of breast cancer in men (women are 100 times more likely to get breast cancer). But also because of men's general reluctance to be proactive when it comes to their own medical care. Think about it. How many men do you know who voluntarily go to the doctor – even when they're running a 103 fever or walking on a broken ankle! Are they going to do a monthly self exam? Probably not!
Because of this lack of awareness (or lack of proactive self-care), when breast cancer is diagnosed in men, it often has progressed to a much later stage. Thus, the prognosis for men diagnosed with breast cancer can be much poorer than for women. It isn't that men get a worse kind of breast cancer, but rather that the disease has had a much longer time to develop.
So how can we raise awareness of breast cancer in men? In 2009, CNN aired a two-part special featuring the stories of 22 men who developed breast cancer following their having lived at and having consumed the water at U.S. Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. Featured in this program was Mike Partain, who received a great deal of recognition for his involvement with The Few, The Proud, The Forgotten – a community-sponsored website designed to assist those who have been affected by the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune. A link to the CNN special is available at the end of this article.
The Camp Lejeune story needs to be told for many reasons, male breast cancer notwithstanding. But as we invest our time and energy into Breast Cancer Awareness, why not think outside the (pink) box and learn all we can about the world of breast cancer we aren't so aware of?