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The GEM Debate: Is Male Breast Cancer Treated Less Seriously By Society?


I cried when I first heard about this story and I am crying now as I write this piece.

I’m sure it’s because it hits so close to home, though I’m not sure how anyone with a heart could not be moved.  It’s the story of a 26-year-old man who was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. As if that wasn’t bad enough, he has no health insurance. And it gets worse, his treatments will not be covered under Medicaid because, you guessed it, he’s a man.

Raymond Johnson isn’t exactly the face of breast cancer, is he? When we think of the disease, we think of middle age women and by far that group does make up the majority of cases that are diagnosed. But men CAN and DO get the disease; roughly 2,000 cases are diagnosed every year in men. Raymond Johnson’s condition was uncovered after going to the emergency room with chest pain and now he’s facing costly treatment that he cannot afford to pay for – and the government won’t help. What does that say about how we view breast cancer in men? Is it somehow less important? Are they less worthy of the dollars and effort?

Many of you know my story; I’m the daughter of two parents who battled breast cancer. My mother was diagnosed post-menopausal at 64 and my father had a mastectomy years earlier, after being diagnosed in his late 40’s. Though a wonderful provider, my dad never really took great care of himself and this was just another in a long list of ailments he suffered from

I remember watching my dad sit in his favorite chair in the living room, his entire right side bandaged up from his radical mastectomy. I remember scrambling into his lap, trying to get so close only to have him wince in pain from the angry scar left after they took his breast and part of the muscle of his chest. Yes, that’s how far and how serious his cancer was. And I remember being afraid I might lose my daddy.

But my family had insurance; we didn’t have to worry a bunch of lawmakers with red pencils and their eye on re-election might result in my dad’s early death. Sadly that is not the case with Raymond Johnson. With that attitude prevalent among lawmakers and the current economic climate, I’m not sure the laws will be changed in time or if anyone will go out on a limb in search of money to fund programs that can help men like Raymond. And my ultimate fear is that if Johnson can’t find money to aggressively treat his disease, breast cancer as well as bureaucracy will be responsible for his death.

So let’s debate this. Do you think this is discrimination? Are men are not getting a fair shake when it comes to something that is thought of primarily as a woman’s disease? Or do we have to make hard choices as a society? Comment away…


  1. Brian Gagnon

    August 8, 2011 at 12:38 pm

    There are many examples of discriminatory standards and perceptions. The notion that breast cancer is a woman’s disease is one. The idea that only men are sex offenders is another. All anyone can do is exactly what you are doing; expose it and keep talking about it. The likelihood of a man dying from breast cancer is greater than that of a woman and the idea that a man can’t get coverage is appalling. I do believe insurance companies, for whatever reason (to be read negligence and profits) will do whatever they can to cut corners on our collective health but this is a life or death situation and deserves equal consideration and treatment. Good job, René.

  2. Faun Reese

    August 8, 2011 at 1:42 pm

    Yeah, I think so. I dated a guy who had breast cancer when he was a teenager. I thought it was a joke when he told me about it.

  3. Joe Glowacki

    August 8, 2011 at 5:34 pm

    My breast cancer was diagnosed in Oct 2009 when I was 68. Since then I have had a mastectomy and chemo. There were a few complications that delayed my healing for almost a year. I am now a “survivor” I hope. I do feel that as a man my treatment was the same as for a woman. There is no special protocol for male breast cancer.

  4. Cody Williams

    August 9, 2011 at 4:16 pm


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