BREAST CANCER: breast cancer patients Rod Ritchie and Rob Fincher.
BREAST CANCER: breast cancer patients Rod Ritchie and Rob Fincher. Tracey Johnstone

Adding some blue to breast cancer pink campaign

IN A SEA of breast cancer pink two men stand out as they turn up the volume on the conversation about men's breast cancer.

Rod Ritchie, 66, and Rob Fincher, 59, are two of some 150 Australian men diagnosed each year with breast cancer, which for most people is known as a women's disease.

"Being a male in a largely female dominated disease it is hard at first," Mr Fincher said.

"You feel emasculated, but you come to terms with that eventually."

They found initially all the support publications talked about women-only issues; there was nothing for males to relate to until now.

Both men are working with the Breast Cancer Network Australia and through their own website, www.malebc.org, advocating for recognition and support for men who make up less than 1% of the people diagnosed with breast cancer.

They believe males have been left behind in the breast cancer discussion, but that this can change.

De-gendering the breast cancer language, building a sense of inclusion of men into the breast cancer community, providing support material suitable for men, conducting research into male breast cancer, including men with BRCA-1 and BRCA-2 gene positive into the screening program and adding some blue to the on-going pink promotions, are all strategies both men believe will make a positive difference to male breast cancer sufferers.

"We are starting the conversation," they both said.

"I want to get the message out there that as males, because we don't realise we can get it we don't look for it, we are diagnosed late and our outcomes are much worse," Mr Fincher said.

"I don't want people following me, to go through what I have gone through."

Mr Ritchie's mother had breast cancer when her son was about 10. She died at 41.

The image of his mother with scar tissue where one breast should have been, remains with him to this day.

"I didn't know men got breast cancer until I got it," he said.

Mr Fincher's extended family had a history of breast cancer, but not his immediate family.

"I wasn't aware there was a male disposition to breast cancer even after having that (family) knowledge," he said.

Both men went through gene testing with Mr Ritchie the only one found to have a variation on the BRCA-1 gene.

Mr Fincher's wife first identified something was wrong with his right nipple, commenting that it had inverted.

"I went to the GP who miss-diagnosed. He just thought it was cyst," he said.

"He said I could get it operated on so I made an appointment with the surgeon.

"The surgeon said he didn't do cysts and I would have to find out what it is.

"As soon as I had the further tests, it showed up it was quite advanced."

Mr Fincher's breast cancer then metastasised, going to his lungs and spots on his bones. 

Mr Ritchie had a mammogram 10 years before and a cyst was found.

"When I felt something this time, I thought it's probably another cyst, but I better get it checked out," he said.

The suspected cyst turned out to be aggressive breast cancer.

He is now being treated for prostate cancer.

A few changes to the community's approach to male breast cancer have begun with the BCNA recently degenderising their help text and booklets, and establishing a policy to always say 'women and men'.


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