Every year, thousands of men in the United States are diagnosed with breast cancer, yet their stories often go untold. To earn her Gold Award, Girl Scout Isabel embarked on a journey to shine light on the battles men with breast cancer face. She educated the greater community and launched a campaign, raising awareness for the disease.
Isabel’s passion for the cause began when she heard her grandfather’s story of battling and overcoming Stage 2 breast cancer. She wanted to use his experience, and her family’s as a whole, to bring awareness to the issue and to make a difference in the community. She says, “Most people are not aware that men can also get breast cancer. Indeed, that was my family’s case … most breast cancer campaigns are directed to only women. One of the principal symptoms of breast cancer is a lump in the breast. When men feel a lump in their breast, the last thing anyone thinks of is cancer; however, it’s a possibility. This causes men to not take action fast and the cancer is identified at a late stage.”
She goes on to explain that since male breast cancer isn’t commonly spoken about, men feel embarrassed and keep quiet when they’re diagnosed. Through interviews, she discovered they’re afraid of the stigma it may create, making them seem like less of a “man” if they share their diagnosis. Not only did Isabel wish to share her grandfather’s story, she wanted to inspire others to share theirs. She turned to social media, creating a supportive community on Instagram (@theoneprecent_breastcancer) and Facebook (The One Percent: A Human Race Breast Cancer Awareness). Both accounts provide men’s firsthand experiences, bringing the message to as many people as possible.
Isabel’s platforms gained attention quickly. She posted information about breast cancer, signs for male teenagers and adults to look for, and shared stories of breast cancer survivors from Spain, Puerto Rico, and Colombia. This also gave Isabel the chance to interview with and write for various news sources, as well as record a podcast in both English and Spanish for Susan G. Komen’s podcast, the Real Pink Podcast.
Her efforts didn’t stop there; Isabel also designed a male breast cancer ribbon made up of 99% pink and 1% blue to represent the 1% of forgotten breast cancer patients and wrote to Puerto Rico’s Capitol Building encouraging them to cast a blue light, along with the pink light now shone on their building every October.
Through the course of her project, Isabel learned how to lead with empathy while researching effectively, eventually turning her findings into a plan of action. She also learned effective communication around a difficult topic. Isabel knew she was dealing with a sensitive topic, so she had to learn how to thoughtfully ask questions when she was interviewing breast cancer survivors. She also gained important storytelling skills as she told the stories of these brave men to various news organizations and foundations.
While Isabel gained many skills along the way, one of the most important things she learned was, as she notes, “If I’m passionate about something, I will put my heart and soul into it. The commitment and persuasion I put into this project opened my eyes to how much I can do if I work for it. As I processed information, I understood I have good communication skills, verbally and written. [From my talks,] I realized I can speak with clarity and charisma.”
Isabel’s dedication has left a remarkable legacy. She worked with the Puerto Rican Senate, Governor, and House of Representatives to create Senate Bill 151, declaring the second Friday of October as Male Breast Cancer Awareness Day. When the bill was brought to the House of Representatives and the Senate, it was unanimously passed by both and became Law 50-221. Isabel believes the designated day will bring people together and “will contribute to a long-lasting education about men with breast cancer, the importance of early detection, and the support of patients and survivors,” as well as continue to impact the lives of people from all around the world.
“The thousands of people I was able to reach with my project are now fully aware that men get breast cancer, too. If they, or anyone close to them ever gets a sign or symptom, they will act fast. Early detection saves lives. If anyone they know gets breast cancer, even if it is a man, they will not judge and [will] instead support. They will include men in breast cancer campaigns. They will continue educating as they share their knowledge.”
What started as a journey to tell her grandfather’s story (who is now 79 and in remission) ended with Isabel fostering a community of men whose voices hadn’t yet been heard. Now there’s no telling how many more men’s stories will be shared thanks to Gold Award Girl Scout Isabel’s work.