This past weekend I helped to bring Octoberbreast to my college's Octoberfest celebrations. For three hours I stood behind a table with some friends, in a black dress and a bright tie-dyed sports bra, encouraging other women to tie-dye their own bras while we spoke with them about the various Breast Cancer Awareness Month events we had coming up around campus. The table was met with a great deal of enthusiasm and excitement... we ran out of bras long before the event ran out of time!
In executing this table we did A LOT of things right. The idea was fun and catchy. We had a range of sizes wide enough that we did not have to tell anyone that we didn't have a bra big enough for them (though we did run out of smaller sizes much quicker than anticipated.) We managed to educate a number of people through conversations and pamphlets given out alongside their bras - sharing information about breast cancer in general as well as the events we have less to come.
Still, there was one thing about this event that made me feel just a bit disappointed in us: we had forgotten the men.
Breast cancer awareness is important, yes, but with "I <3 Boobies" bracelets on so many arms, and NEW! pink products coming out all the time... most people are pretty aware of breast cancer, well, at least the 51% of them that identify as female are. The other half of the population is still at risk because somewhere along the line the conversation about men & breast cancer often seems to get lost. In fact, I have to wonder if all of these campaigns that focus so much on boobs make men even less aware of breast cancer, since they are trained to associate it with "boobies" and women in general.
If this is true, as I suspect, then these campaigns actually could be costing male breast-cancer patients valuable time as they are less likely to be on the lookout for breast cancer symptoms. That time could be the difference between life and death.
In August many media outlets were reporting on a South Carolina man, Raymond Johnson, who was denied coverage for his breast cancer... simply because he was not born female. Johnson makes too much money to be considered for Medicaid, but not enough to afford insurance that would cover his treatments, as a result of this his doctors encouraged him to apply for help under The Breast and Cervical Cancer Prevention and Treatment Act. Johnson met all of the requirements for coverage under this act except for one: he wasn't a woman. Johnson isn't the only man who has been denied by this fund for the same reasons.
Equally horrifying (at least to me) is the fact that Johnson didn't even know he could GET breast cancer. For all of the awareness campaigns out there he, like many men, was left in the dark until his diagnosis was brought to light:
“I didn’t even know men could get breast cancer,” says Johnson, who was diagnosed after he went to a local emergency room for chest pain treatment. “I’m young. I didn’t think anything bad could really happen to me.” [Source]While it is true that breast cancer is MUCH more rare in men [there are just under 2,000 new cases of breast cancer in men in the U.S. per year, and just under 400 deaths, while almost 40,000 women die of breast cancer each year] that does not mean that raising awareness in men is not important. Like all cancers, a patient's chances of survival are MUCH higher
For an event like ours, I would suggest providing white tank tops for men (and women who don't want sports-bras) to tie-dye in order to help draw in a more mixed crowd. Overall, when it comes to Breast Cancer Awareness, I continue to advocate for a less "boobies"-centric view... what I mean by this, is that campaigns should focus more on the people who are fighting this disease, and less on the "boobies" themselves.
The bottom line is that breast cancer doesn't discriminate based on sex, and neither should breast cancer awareness programs or treatment funds.
To end this on a positive note, is one awesome Breast Cancer Awareness campaign that speaks to men as well as women:
"Peter Criss, drummer and founding member of the rock band KISS, recently went public with his battle against breast cancer. People don't associate men with the disease, but men have breast tissue, too, and they are susceptible to breast cancer. Keep reading and then encourage your loved ones -- male and female -- to get screened for the potentially deadly disease. " Read more here!What do you think? Do you know of any effective awareness campaigns that target women AND men? As always, feel free to share in the comments!