In the United States, male breast cancer occurrences are rare. Only one in 100 cases of breast cancer are male. Max Monaco, 58, of New Jersey, never dreamed he would be that one percent.
Although Max’s mother died of breast cancer at the age of 80 and his sister was diagnosed with the disease in 1985, Max felt risk-free the majority of his life because of the low statistics. However, in August of 1998, Max discovered a lump and made an appointment with an oncologist, just to be safe.
That appointment and early detection may have saved Max’s life. When the biopsy report revealed the tumor was malignant, the oncologist scheduled Max for surgery in September.
Max says the entire process of the detection, surgery and then follow-up chemotherapy happened as quickly as if a whirlwind had hit him and left him feeling terrified and alone. He was scared for his life and two children. Max contributes much of his feelings of loneliness to the fact that most support groups and foundations do not know what to say to men or how to reach out to them, because their healing tactics are geared toward women.
“Everywhere I turned for help, I found most people more compassionate to women. I don’t blame them for this. People don’t know how to support scared men because it’s unusual for us to show our true emotions and weaknesses,” Max said. He says his findings with support groups were interesting because the suggested way of healing is to network among survivors. This allows people with similar histories to receive support and encouragement from someone else who has lived through the experience. However, Max says, even though men aren’t apt to network, he did benefit from discussions with a man in California who survived prostate and breast cancer.
After the surgery, Max’s most frustrating experience was the lack of follow-up by doctors. He finds it ridiculous that, after undergoing such radical surgery, a medical staff can’t find the time to phone the patients at home and make sure they’re okay. “After leaving the hospital, you could die [for all they care]. I find it ironic that I get better follow-up when I take my car in for service. At least they call two to three days afterward to make sure everything is running right,” he says.
While Max’s wife and sister later contacted various organizations for him to get involved with as a volunteer, he saved his energy to endure three cycles of chemotherapy.
Max’s advice to men and women who contract the dreaded disease: “Ask your doctor all the questions you can. It’s imperative that you understand exactly what it is you have. Once you know your diagnosis, shop around for a doctor whom you can get along with.”
Max believes awareness of male breast cancer is growing and that organizations are learning better ways to reach men. He urges fellow male breast cancer survivors to attend support groups, to get involved in organizations, and to learn to express buried feelings to begin the long physical and emotional healing process.