Breast cancer graduate Adam Chamberlain is an ambassador for the Male Breast Cancer Coalition and is finding ways to raise awareness and send messages of hope to men affected by breast cancer. He shares with us his story and thoughts on men who are living with breast cancer.
When I was 31 years old, I was diagnosed with Stage 2, Grade 2, Ductal Carcinoma In Situ.
There were two unique things about my story. Being a man and being a young adult.
Being a man with a disease that is predominantly associated with women has been challenging. It took a while, but eventually I found a support group composed of men from around the world known as the Male Breast Cancer Coalition. I soon discovered that my thoughts, fears, and confusions were not uncommon. Male Breast Cancer accounts for 1% of all breast cancer cases. It is estimated that 230 Canadian men will be diagnosed with Breast Cancer in 2020, 55 of which will not survive. The mortality rate for breast cancer is higher in men, simply because of delayed diagnosis. I have heard many times over about men that are too embarrassed to talk to their doctor. Some often do not seek attention until there is an extreme symptom like bleeding through their nipples. By which point it is too late.
As a young adult fighting cancer, you face a unique set of challenges that many do not consider. Fertility, education, careers and all other future goals are put on hold or put to rest completely. For me, one of the most devastating parts of my diagnosis was the thought of leaving this earth with no legacy and a bucket list full of things that I may never be able to do. I found a few support groups for young adults who have fought or are fighting cancer. Most notably was a non-profit from the United State called First Descents. They provide free weeklong outdoor adventure experiences to young adults that have fought or are fighting cancer and other diseases. My trip took me to Oregon, where I went White Water Kayaking with 11 other young adult cancer survivors. There were several girls in my group with various types and stages of breast cancer. I was very nervous in the beginning, thinking that maybe I would not fit in or that I would offend somehow by being present. That feeling went away almost from the beginning when another survivor gave me a giant bear hug I will never forget and called me her “Breastie.” These women have shown me incredible courage and acceptance and finally allowed me to get my feelings off my chest – no pun intended. We spent the rest of the week sharing our experiences with cancer and what it is like to be young and trying to survive.
Since my diagnosis, I have been doing my best to be as involved in the Breast Cancer Community as possible. Last summer, I was invited to join a team of Breast Cancer Dragon Boaters that get together once a week to train for competitions, the next of which will take us to New Zealand in 2022. I was at first nervous about how I would be accepted by the other members. I am the youngest person on the team and I am the only male survivor. My worries were short lived though. I will never forget my first night on the lake when one of the ladies said to me “Hey Adam, how does it feel to have 40 more moms.”
Getting cancer can make you more empathetic and, as a result, my community involvement has changed drastically. My friends and family have also become more involved than ever before. I am grateful for the support that I have received from everyone around me and, together, we have raised over $20,000 for various charities in the last 2 years. I have also had the opportunity to share my story on stage several times with audiences over 1000 people.
Cancer has been a double-edged sword in my life. Although I would never wish this on my worst enemy, I am grateful for what it has taught me and who I have become. I am living my best life now and have contributed more to society then I ever did in my previous life. The friendships that I have made are priceless and I will always be grateful for those that I have met because of my journey, even if they are not with us today.
A friend from the cancer community once called me a unicorn. When I asked her why, she replied “people say that men can get breast cancer, but you never see them in real life.” That is why I advocate for more awareness and to try to encourage more men to step forward and embrace the support systems that are already in place. The women are here for you, and they want you to be part. Don’t be a Unicorn!
This would not be complete without saying thank you to all the wonderful Breast Cancer Survivors and supporters that have made me feel welcome in the community. I would not have been able to get to this point without your continued support and encouragement. Thank you for including me and thank you for not making it weird.