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While the diagnosis is rare, men need to know that they're not alone

September 28, 2000

While the diagnosis is rare, men need to know that they're not alone

By Kevin Clapp / Staff Writer


When Frederick Reeder was diagnosed with breast cancer, a thousand thoughts ran through his head.

Shame was not one of them.

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"I don't get uncomfortable about it, no," he says now, almost three years later.

He says there probably are men ashamed of being diagnosed with a disease widely considered a woman's illness. But he never did, and figures what's the difference between having breast cancer or lung cancer.

Lamar McGinnis, M.D., senior medical consultant for the American Cancer Society in Atlanta, says he doesn't believe men feel stigmatized when diagnosed with breast cancer.

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"I think any time a patient is diagnosed with cancer that is a burden the patient carries with them," McGinnis says. "The stigma is more that they have cancer, not breast cancer."

As a result, he says men are likely to join women's support groups and find security in being around other people they can share their experiences with.

Reeder thought about going to meetings of Y-ME of the Cumberland Valley support group meetings, though ultimately did not.

Area counselors and others who work with breast cancer patients say they have had little to no contact with men who have breast cancer. They are not surprised either, in part because their ranks are so small but also because of how men tend to deal with adversity.

"Women tend to be more talkative, more sharing with each other, and men are just more quiet in general," says Betsy Lang, clinical oncology counselor for the John R. Marsh Cancer Center.

Information is rare, but Joan Fell, executive director of the local Y-ME organization, says one important new resource for men is online.

"There just isn't much there, although with the Internet now they can get information and go into chat rooms," Fell says. "It's a huge resource to be able to talk to others who have the disease, about treatment and to see what's out there, what's available."

Most important for men to realize is that while relatively few cases of male breast cancer occur, patients can take solace in knowing they aren't alone.

Putting ego aside, and taking advantage of support groups geared toward women can become an integral part of the healing process.

"There are so many questions that can go through your mind, but the initial thing is 'Am I going to die?' and 'Why me?' " says John R. Marsh Cancer Center director Patty Hanson. "You don't get cancer because of something you did or didn't do, with the possible exception of lung cancer. Most cancers, you don't have any control over it."

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