Almost everyone will have been confronted with the phenomenon of the “no makeup selfie” raising awareness for breast cancer. They’re everywhere on social media accompanied with the usual hash tags – #nomakeupselfie, #beatcancersooner #breastcancerawreness.
There’s been a lot of commentary around whether the makeup free selfie is really a good awareness raising tool or indeed whether it really is a “brave” thing to do, and whether it is actually encouraging a kind of vanity – being seen to look good naturally – which is actually decidedly unhelpful environment for those currently undergoing cancer treatment who look like a shadow of their former self. As people are want to do on social media there have also been endless spoofs of makeup free selfies. People have placed photos of anything from witches with boils on their face to dogs with funny expressions.
I want to share with you the breast cancer awareness raising selfie that we all need to see. Because there is one aspect of breast cancer that really does need awareness raising and there is a selfie pic that might achieve that. So here it is:
This is my dad. In the spirit of the exercise it is make up free (mind you he never wears it). And no it’s not a joke or a spoof. Most people are totally unaware that men can get breast cancer. When we think breast cancer we think pink – pink ribbons, pink products. We’ve tinged breast cancer awareness in this stereotypical female colour, yet it is not only a woman’s disease.
Men possess a small amount of breast tissue behind their nipples, so yes, they too can, and do, get breast cancer. According to statistics from Cancer Australia over 100 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer each year in Australia, and the numbers appear to be rising. In the US approximately 2000 men will be diagnosed each year and almost 400 men will die each year from breast cancer.
In our society breast cancer is seen as a woman’s disease when actually it is not gender specific. The lack of awareness in men (and women) about the existence of male breast cancer means that it is often diagnosed late. Men may be aware of a lump and not see a doctor. Even among doctors there is a lack of awareness about male breast cancer. When my dad went to the GP about his inverted nipple he sent him to a specialist. The specialist merely advised that it was likely to be hormonal and to reduce his consumption of chicken and chocolate and things that might influence hormone production. If he’d been female, there would have been no way he would have walked out of that office without a referral for an ultrasound or even a biopsy. When his cancer was ultimately diagnosed much later, like many male sufferers, the cancer was more aggressive and advanced. For some men, it has already spread to other parts of their body.
The lack of awareness about male breast cancer also has the unfortunate effect that, for many men, being diagnosed with breast cancer can be a source of shame and humiliation. The sea of pink that has arisen around breast cancer has probably made it the most feminised place to be in the world. Male sufferers have reported doing the ‘walk of shame’ into waiting rooms full of women, and being interrogated by nurses and receptionists as to whether they’re ‘in the right place.’ Explaining to friends and family that they have ‘breast cancer’, something they never thought was humanly possible for them (as a man) to get, can somehow make them feel emasculated.
So I hope this selfie really is an awareness raising tool. My dad likes to tell his story because, like many other male breast cancer sufferers, he thinks that if his story can reach just one man and help them to detect the disease early it is a story well shared. But for me it’s not just about helping men avoid late diagnosis. It’s about helping men like my dad feel more accepted.
Breast cancer networks and pink ribbon days need to reach out and include the male sufferers of the disease. Otherwise it’s always going to be such an incredibly hard road to walk for these men. Who needs to fight stigma on top of fighting cancer?
This post was first published on Women’s Agenda http://www.womensagenda.com.au/talking-about/opinions/the-selfie-that-really-raises-breast-cancer-awareness/201404103868