No one should discount us because we are men, or because they think losing our pecs is not as significant as a women losing their breasts. I know what it is like to receive stares, as well as be mocked, when I remove my shirt at a pool. Initially, I was never going to show my scars in public. I was embarrassed, ashamed, alone and devastated. I had no one to turn to. There are no support groups for men who have gone through breast cancer. And I am not sure if I would have used one if it was offered.
Anyway, back to the image problem. To overcome this, I did a photoshoot about three months after my last day of chemo. The photographer, Alan Lang, took 150 pics of me with my shirt on and off in a boxing theme.
I was going to use some of them for my charitable foundation and to show the world that I wasn’t afraid. But that wasn’t good enough. I still had to overcome the fear of taking off my shirt at the pool in front of complete strangers. I did just that in June 2013 and it was frightening.
I had so many people just stare at me and point. I quickly put my shirt back on and went home. After that, I didn’t take off my shirt at the pool in front of people for a long time. But that all changed. My attitude changed, and because I always use humor, I decided to have fun with it. I wasn’t afraid anymore. I did want people to look at me. I want them to ask me what happened so I can educate them about breast cancer. It became a conversation starter.
As years went by, it got easier. I started to work out again and to rebuild my pecs. But I realize that is easier said than done. I am getting stronger, but it is taking a lot time. I can get reconstructive surgery, however, they take the fat from your stomach and use that to build your pecs. No, thank you! I’d rather have just muscle there and no fat!
Fast forward to April 2017. I was invited by my friend Joules Evans (breast cancer survivor and Badass Warrior of Life) to do a photoshoot for the Grace Project by Isis (the photographer, not the terror group, peeps). The photographer has a goal to photograph 800 breast cancer survivors with their mastectomy scars in a beautiful and majestical manner.
These women are amazing. They are all Grace Goddesses. Go to The Grace Project for more information. Currently, she has took about 250 photographs and they are printed on silk banners. The reason for the number 800 is to tell the story that 800 women are diagnosed each day. And she is going to photograph eight men because that is the number diagnosed each day.
I became one of the lucky eight. On April, 19 in Ault Park (Cincinnati), I took off all of my clothes (except my underwear (my mom would have freaked out!), and wore a purple toga. (Toga! Toga! Toga! I always think of John Belushi from the movie Animal House when I wear one.) Anyway, I draped the purple toga on my lower half, and looked fiercely in the camera, per the photographer’s instructions.
She wanted me to look fierce like a Greek God. Pissed off at cancer! It was awesome!
Eventually, all 800-plus photographs will be shown together in one place. The photos will show the world the impact of breast cancer and the need for a cure. Also, it will show the world that beauty comes in all sizes and shapes. Majestic and beautiful.
In conclusion, I am OK. I am good with how I look and how I look to the world. Maybe I will start using one of these pictures as my new dating profile pic. That would be interesting. (I wonder how many women would want a Greek God! Well more like an Italian-Greek God, but I will save that story for another time!)
To all of those women and men out there who have mastectomy scars — be free. Take off your shirt and feel empowered. Stand up on a mountain, take off your shirt and shout “Cancer, don’t mess with me!”
My name is Steve Del Gardo. Director/Founder/Warrior of Life of Protect The Pecs
Note: Breast Cancer News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Breast Cancer News, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to breast cancer.