Cathy Reid is tired of pink. She has no problem with the intentions behind Breast Cancer Awareness ribbon; it's the color she has reservations about.
Reid, of Walkersville, prefers a ribbon she helped create — a pink one on top of a blue one. It is the trademark of her organization, Out of the Shadow of Pink, which she started with her husband after he was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005. He has since died.
Reid works everyday to help spread public awareness about male breast cancer and aims to eventually make the third week in October Male Breast Cancer Awareness Week.
Though the disease is much rarer in men, The National Cancer Institute predicts 1,910 new diagnoses of male breast cancer and 440 deaths from the disease for 2009.
"I sit here and watch TV, the majority of these shows don't say anything about men," Reid said, waving an arm at a television tuned to CBS talk show "The Doctors." She said she was angry when the show recently called breast cancer a woman's disease. "Give me a break, guys," she said. She promptly wrote a letter to the show, as well as to Ellen DeGeneres and Oprah Winfrey.
The mortality rate for men with breast cancer is much higher than it is for women, mostly because there is so little awareness that men can contract it, and as a result few men practice prevention methods, Reid said. Her husband, Joe, died at age 47 last September after a three-year battle with breast cancer. He initially thought a lump he found was a weightlifting injury and already had an advanced stage of breast cancer before he was diagnosed.
"He knew he had the lump for a while, didn't think a thing of it," she said, "because he did not know."
Even Reid, who had her own mammograms done "religiously" and had heard of the male form of the disease through working at a hospital didn't immediately think of breast cancer as a possibility for her husband. When he was diagnosed "everybody was shocked," she said of the reaction from friends and family. None of them knew men could get breast cancer, she said.
Everyone's shock at her husband's diagnosis and the public ignorance of the disease were the main reasons she started Out of the Shadow of Pink, she said. One method of getting the message out there is through her trademark pink-and-blue ribbon, which she designed.
"Embarrassment over what is perceived as a woman's disease is a huge problem," said Reid, who hopes the new "Connect" portion of her Web site (www.outoftheshadowofpink.com) will bring together men who are looking for support. She said when Joe was diagnosed in 2005, they found no local support groups for male breast cancer patients and none of the male patients she talks to through the site are willing to attend support groups comprised only of women.
Although she knows the embarrassment is a serious issue, Reid chuckled at the memory of her husband having "a cow" when he was given a pink gown at his initial mammogram. "All of the brochures and breast cancer material we received were always emblazoned with the pink ribbon" as well, she said.
Reid's organization hosts fundraising events and she is in the process of collecting signatures for a proclamation to make the third week in October Male Breast Cancer Awareness week in Maryland.
At her events, she tries to get the word out while raising money for Dr. Leisha Emens of the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center, who "develops and tests active vaccination strategies for breast cancer treatment," according to the center's Web site.
Reid said if her husband were still alive, he would probably have two pieces of advice for men.
"No. 1, if you find anything unusual, have it checked out right away," she said. She suggests that men, especially those 40 or older, or with a family history of breast cancer, do monthly breast self-exams just like the ones women are encouraged to complete regularly. "If you're uncomfortable with it, have your wife do it — she knows how," she said.
Secondly, he would also say, "‘Just know that this can happen to you, too,'" Reid said.