STATE – Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey has officially declared Oct. 21-27 “Male Breast Cancer Awareness Week” to help get the word out that breast cancer isn’t only a woman’s disease—men get breast cancer, too.
Male breast cancer is rare, accounting for less than 1% of all breast cancers. But because men with the disease are often undiagnosed and their cancer isn’t detected until a much later stage, 27% of men die of the disease compared with 19% of women. An estimated 1,900 men in the United States are diagnosed with breast cancer, and an estimated 400 men die of the disease, each year.
Decades ago, Susan G. Komen for the Cure was instrumental in bringing breast cancer “out of the darkness” and illuminating the path to breast health and breast cancer awareness for millions of women. This past year, two courageous women—one of whom lost her husband to breast cancer when he was just 43—took up the crusade to do the same for men. Alexis Ritter Gubbay of Maplewood and Cheri Ambrose of East Hanover, the creators of The Blue Wave, have partnered with Susan G. Komen for the Cure North Jersey on a male breast cancer awareness campaign that is working to get the message out to New Jersey men to “inspect their pecs.”
The North Jersey Affiliate is the first Komen affiliate in the country to launch an awareness education program devoted to male breast cancer; the two organizations debuted their collaboration at the Komen North Jersey 2012 Race for the Cure in West Orange last May.
“Men need to know that breast cancer is not just a woman’s disease, that they are also at risk for breast cancer,” says Jennifer Griola, Executive Director of Komen North Jersey. “It is important to get the message out to everyone in New Jersey that early detection saves lives, but reaching men is especially critical because men often tend to ignore the early signs of breast cancer.”
Studies show that even those who do discover warning signs of breast cancer wait an average of ten months before seeking medical advice. Marc Futterweit of Wayne had no idea men could get breast cancer. “I said to my doctor, I don’t have breasts. Guys have pecs,” Futterweit said. Futterweit first went to his doctor when he noticed some unusual dark discharge from his nipple. Eventually, after several misdiagnoses, a biopsy revealed that he had breast cancer, but fortunately, it was isolated. “I was lucky,” he said. “But men can get this, and men can die from this as well.” As a male breast cancer survivor, Futterweit now speaks out about this disease in an attempt to raise awareness and encourage men to check themselves regularly. “Tell your father, tell your son, your nephew, your grandfather, that this can happen to them.”
Griola says that this is exactly why the joint Blue Wave in a Sea of Pink initiative was created—to help increase male breast cancer awareness and bring it more prominently into the public conversation about breast cancer. Komen North Jersey also wanted a more formal way of recognizing and honoring male breast cancer survivors. “The name was inspired by the amazing ‘sea’ of pink survivors at our annual Race for the Cure Survivor Celebration,” says Griola. “It is always an incredibly inspiring moment, and we thought this was very symbolic in terms of male breast cancer survivors—they truly are a ‘blue wave in a sea of pink.’”
In setting aside a week during October National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, New Jersey’s governor joins those in Pennsylvania, Connecticut, New York and Massachusetts in recognizing the importance of bringing information about male breast cancer to the forefront.
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