The 1%: Male Breast Cancer
In September 2019, my grandfather felt a lump on his right breast. It never crossed his mind it could be breast cancer. Thankfully, he took action anyways and went to the doctor. The doctor orders him a sonomammography and mammography. The result comes: “Highly suspicious for malignancy”. No confirmed diagnosis yet but you know something’s wrong. The doctor’s orders him a biopsy and the results came on October 3: Positive for Breast Cancer. Difficult time but we can get through this. Him, me, our family, many people we know, we're thinking…Male Breast Cancer…what?...but that’s not a woman’s exclusive disease? Nope! Men can get breast cancer too.
What started with a breast cancer diagnosis for my grandfather, has turned into a life project of educating and creating awareness. I have been a Girl Scout for 11 years and as my Gold Award -the highest recognition a Girl Scout can earn - I created “The One Percent: A Human Race Breast Cancer Awareness” project, about creating awareness that females and males can have Breast Cancer.
One percent (1%) of all diagnosed breast cancer cases are in men. It may seem like little, but that is equal to thousands of lives. It can be a relative, your dad, brother, cousin, uncle, neighbor, a known one, well, you never know. When a family member gets cancer, they are not alone, the battle belongs to everyone.
I created a ribbon 1% blue, 99% pink.
Most Breast Cancer Awareness campaigns are directed only at women. The most recognized cancer awareness ribbon, the breast cancer ribbon, is all pink. Been pink the most related color to women, the all ribbon pink is probably taking the wrong message to our consciousness that Breast Cancer is an exclusive women disease. This is why I consider a 1% blue (been blue the most related color to men) and a 99% pink ribbon, an ideal breast cancer awareness ribbon. This way, our subconscious is conscious men get breast cancer too.
Since most people are not aware that men can get breast cancer, they often identify it when cancer has already spread. That’s why I want to raise awareness that we all have to be aware of signs, any unusual change. There are also men who feel ashamed and keep quiet. I would like to raise awareness about breast cancer, focusing on that 1%, but always including 99% of women. A life, whether of men or women, that we save through early detection and awareness that we all must have about breast cancer, makes a difference. All the effort is worth it.
In December 2019, my grandfather started with his first chemotherapy. Four rounds of “The Red Devil” Doxorubicin. A red and powerful chemotherapy. Sixteen (16) days after only one round, he got up in the morning and realized his pillow was full of his hair, and when he washed it, more than half fell into the bathtub. My grandfather’s words were: “I am stronger than Cancer”. My grandfather is a warrior and survivor.
Then came the operation. He had a right breast mastectomy on March 12, 2020, where a surgeon took out the breast tumor. Just three (3) days before Puerto Rico’s governor ordered a total Covid-19 Lockdown.
Next came 28 radiotherapies. Later he had his second type of chemotherapy, Taxol, which did not work for him. Important here: what works for one patient, does not necessarily works for others. And what did not work for him, is still effective in others. Afterward, he had his third chemotherapy type, Capecitabine, which did complete its purpose. It’s been a rough rollercoaster journey amid cancer and pandemic, but still grateful and counting blessings.
My grandfather did not have any family history of Breast Cancer. Amid there’s nothing specific we can do to prevent it, It is very important that everyone is aware and take the necessary precautions to keep up with their health, such have good eating habits and exercises physically properly and healthily.
Awareness is essential in this fight. Early detection saves lives. Breast Cancer is affecting the planet in epidemic numbers. Support from family and friends is essential. To patients who are or will battle with this disease and their families: There is Hope! Be Strong! In the battle you are about to begin, you are not alone.
It has been a very special journey, full of work, goals, and achievements. I have the support of the “American Cancer Society” and the “Puerto Rican League against Cancer”. I worked with them during the month of October. The Dr. Isaac González Oncological Hospital, for the first time in its history, put a pink and blue ribbon in its lobby in honor of my project. They also included me in "La Voz del Onco" (Onco’s Voice), a monthly newsletter for all the hospital employees.
My project was mentioned in Univision Puerto Rico's “Lente de Cambio” (Change Lens) section. A TV program. Also, I have interviewed a Colombian breast cancer survivor living in Miami and a male breast cancer survivor from Spain. I wrote a blog for "Today is Her Story”.
I had the immense opportunity to be interviewed by El Nuevo Día, a well-known Puerto Rico newspaper. Also wrote an article for BuenaVida, a recognized Puerto Rico magazine, in their 30th-anniversary edition.
The Puerto Rico Capitol is annually lit by pink lights in October, as part of Breast Cancer Awareness month. Last October 2020 I had the great opportunity to write a letter to the Superintendence of the Capitol about my project and I managed to get them to add a blue light bulb, representing that 1% of diagnosed men.
Puerto Rico's Senate President signed and filed Senate Bill 151, to declare the second Friday of October of each year as "Male Breast Cancer Awareness Day", to promote the use of the awareness ribbon 99% pink and 1% blue, and for other related purposes. As part of October being the "Breast Cancer Prevention Month", I proposed to have a Day dedicated to Male Breast Cancer. This is key to raise awareness of the importance of early detection of this cancer in men, the treatments to fight it, and the support for patients and survivors. Soon Male Breast Cancer will have its official day here in Puerto Rico. I want to continue doing everything I can to help save lives.
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Together we can make a difference!