When you think of Breast Cancer Awareness three things likely come to mind: pink, women and support.
Support is overflowing for women battling the disease during October, but what about the men who, too, are dealing with the illness? There is little discussion about their experience, but their need for support is just as important.
This year alone roughly 2,500 men will be diagnosed and an estimated 460 will die from breast cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. If you conduct a quick Google search you will discover there is limited information about male breast cancer and even fewer support groups dedicated to assisting them in comparison to women’s support groups.
Mark Spark Welch, an advocate for breast cancer awareness; particularly for African American men, started a foundation to provide support and financial assistance to men dealing with breast cancer after the issue hit close to home.
“My foundation started when my wife and her dad discovered they had breast cancer and they were doing chemo and radiation together,” Welch tells theGrio.
“When they both finished my wife had support from Avon, Susan G. Komen, and all the other breast cancer foundations. She found that her dad just went into a slump because he had no outlet, he had no one to talk to about it, and no support. There were no support groups for men.
“It became a problem for him because he slipped into depression,” he adds.
“My wife started bringing her dad with her everywhere. She and I were talking one day and we were like we need to do something for men. It is crazy that men don’t have support and women have all the support in the world.”
In 2007, Arnaldo Silva and Vanessa Silva (Welch’s wife), were both diagnosed with breast cancer. Arnaldo discovered what he called an overgrown pimple on his chest in a touching letter he penned on his son-in-law foundation’s website.
He had the “pimple” checked, and after receiving a mammogram he was diagnosis with breast cancer. Silva fell into the 1 percent of men diagnosed with the disease. Since he and one of his sisters were diagnosed with breast cancer, he was advised to test for the hereditary BRCA gene mutation. He tested positive and advised his four children to get tested, and that is how Vanessa found out she had breast cancer as well.
Medical statistics show that breast cancer diagnosed in a close female relative can increase the chances of a male being at risk. The chance of man being diagnosed with the illness goes up with age; the average ranging between 60 and 70.
As the father and daughter battled the illness, Welch alongside his wife came up with a foundation called Life(Live In Faith Everyday) to address the needs of men battling breast cancer that same year. The support group started with about a half a dozen men.
His advocacy didn’t stop there.
The New York resident decided to grow his platform by partnering with New Jersey resident Cheri Ambrose, creator of Blue Wave (male breast cancer organization), and male breast cancer survivor, Brett Miller to create The Male Breast Cancer Coalition.
Welch said, “She and I partnered up and we said let’s work together to help these men that are coming out the woodwork, which they don’t normally do, but let’s support them and see how we can help them build like these other organizations do for women.”
The duo along with their partner Brett have built an organization that is making a difference for people throughout the country. The organization currently services over 500 men and has a growing system dedicated to helping men.
“Our foundation offers currently a network of doctors in several different states. We offer education on where to go (men diagnosed with breast cancer), what to look for, what to to check,” Welch says. “We give them a step by step booklet on what to do once they find out they have breast cancer. We raise funds not just for the education process, but to help out their family members. Sometimes these men are the breadwinners of their families and if they don’t work they don’t get paid so we raise funds to help if we can in the area of financial stress.”
Peggy Miller, mother of founding member Brett Miller and foundation partner, does the major research for the foundation. She indicated that at least a third of the men they service are African-American.
“If you go on the site and look up the survivors It will blow your mind how many Black men are actually a part of this,” Miller says. “It is being proven that it runs more in African-American men and Latino communities…but also they are fearful to talk about it.”
Statistics also indicate more and more young adults are being diagnosed, even children. The number of women surviving the disease has increased significantly because of early diagnosis and advancement in treatment. Oftentimes men are diagnosed later than women for a number of reasons; men are less likely to get annual checkups, and a check of their breast tissue is normally not examined during wellness checks.
“The first thing that needs to change is in a man’s physical. They (doctors) don’t check a man’s breast. That is the reality we have to change because it begins there to give that awareness to all men,” Miller says.
Despite the need for better examinations and earlier diagnosis, strides are taking place to close the gap in awareness and support offered for men. The third week in October is considered male breast cancer week. The founders of MBCC want the Commander-In-Chief to recognize the week on a national level.
“Our goal is to get President Trump to make it a national awareness week,” she says.
The foundation works with the American Cancer Society on a regular basis, offers a secret chat room on Facebook for male breast cancer survivors and patients to speak freely, and are preparing to launch a new support event Nov. 2.
“We are making great headway with the awareness,” Welch says.
For the past 10 years the organization has been on a mission to include men in the breast cancer awareness conversation. It looks like they are not only on the right track, but changing the conversation all together.