The Men Who Hide the Pink Ribbon

Odds are, you thought of breast cancer when you read pink ribbon in the title. That’s powerful. Two words that individually conjure visions of crayons and hair ties immediately change their meaning and people’s internal imagery and dialogue when combined. When those two words, pink and ribbon, sit together, images of fundraiser efforts, brave faces, fearless supporters, pink this, and pink that race to our mind’s forefront. And if we’re honest, most think female. Some even refer to breast cancer as “women’s disease.”

Thinking of breast cancer as a women’s disease carries massive consequences.

Men with Breast Cancer Carry a Higher Mortality Rate

The National Breast Cancer Foundation reports that men with breast cancer carry a higher mortality rate than women with breast cancer. Due to breast cancer primarily thought of as exclusively a female issue, men often lack awareness and are less likely to assume a lump in their chest is breast cancer. This lack of understanding, and perhaps acceptance, leads to later diagnosis, contributing to the higher mortality rate in males.

The American Journal of Men’s Health exposes a “social construct that connects breasts in general and breast cancer with femaleness.” The report articulates how “… males [with breast cancer] also have to deal with gender aspects of suffering from a perceived woman’s illness and feminization in therapy.” The report points out that “emasculation is a big issue…” for men with breast cancer because they feel ashamed of having an illness thought of as feminine.

From Embarrassed to Empowered

Michael Singer received his breast cancer diagnosis at the age of 48. His sister died from breast cancer, yet he ignored the small lump in his chest for months. He knew it wasn’t the disease that took his sister because he was a man, after all. At 50, Michael had a mastectomy of his left breast. He only spoke to his wife about this; not even close family and friends knew of his breast cancer diagnosis. “I would say I have chest cancer,” Michael admits.

It wasn’t until he met Brett Miller, breast cancer survivor since the age of 24 and founder of the Male Breast Cancer Coalition, that he stopped letting shame accompany his diagnosis. Now, Michael devotes his life to proudly saying he is a breast cancer survivor, not a chest cancer survivor, and building awareness of breast cancer’s ability to strike both females and males.

So as October bursts at the seams with pink ribbons and opportunities to support fundraising efforts and walks for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, remind yourself and others that this is not a “women’s disease.” Breast cancer affects men, and men need to be proud to pin the pink survivor ribbon on their chest as readily as a female survivor. Be part of changing the conversation. Words are powerful, so use them wisely and in a way that offers perspective. You never know who may be listening and needs to hear and feel what you have to say.

Author: Evelyn Lindell
Certified Health & Wellness Coach