What Spencer, a trans man, and 30 other Canadians want you to know about breast cancer…especially if you think it’ll never happen to you…
By Adriana Ermter
Breasts, boobs, tits, ta-tas, cans, glands, milkers…whatever you want to call them, like them or lump them, we all have them. Which means we’re all susceptible to being diagnosed with breast cancer. Because if you think it can’t happen to you, stop.
According to the Canadian Cancer Society, breast cancer is the most common cancer and the second leading cause of death from cancer in women – 78 women are diagnosed every day, while 15 die daily. And men and trans men are not immune. The Canadian Cancer Society notes that across the country in 2022, approximately 270 men were diagnosed, and 55 men died from the disease. In a 2020 study published by the (US) National Library of Medicine, female-to-male (FtM) transexuals using testosterone therapy for masculinization were also shown to have an increased risk of developing breast cancer.
Spencer, a 52-year-old trans man, is part of this ever-growing statistic. After finding a lump on the right side of his chest and being diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer in 2021, he opted for a double mastectomy as part of his treatment. “Even though there was no sign of cancer on the left side, at my behest, the surgeon performed a double mastectomy because I had already received Ontario Health Ministry approval for top surgery,” explains the Ottawa local. “My oncologist wanted me to stop taking testosterone. As a trans man, this made for a very difficult decision.… I would rather have 10 good years of taking testosterone, where I feel happy in my skin, than have 20 years of being miserable.”
Following a difficult journey that included surgery and chemotherapy, Spencer is now healing and continues to take a limited amount of testosterone daily. He also advocates for breast health through self-agency, such as preventive screening, breast self-examinations and booking an appointment with a doctor when you find a lump – even if you don’t believe you’re at risk. Like 30 other Canadians, Spencer has stepped forward as part of Dense Breasts Canada’s I Want You to Know campaign, which showcases the disease’s expanding diversity – that breast cancer impacts people at any age and of all races and gender; that it is no longer the 60-plus, white cis-woman’s disease. Spencer’s story and personal experience, alongside 30 others, has been captured in a groundbreaking photo essay shot by award-winning photographer Hilary Gauld, and featured in the non-profit’s awareness-building campaign, which launched this October.
“We wanted those who think breast cancer will never happen to them to see themselves in the faces we portray,” shares Jennie Dale, executive director of Dense Breasts Canada, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014. “Breast cancer can happen to anyone. Women young and old, women of colour, men and trans men.”
Spencer agrees, emphasizing, “You can be male, female, cis, trans, Black, white, gay or straight, or somewhere in between all of those things. Everyone has breast tissue.”
Read My Story, also from our November/December 2023 issue where seven women from across Canada share their stories about how breast cancer has affected them. To read more about Spencer’s story, and others, log on to densebreastscanada.ca.
ADRIANA ERMTER is a Toronto-based lifestyle-magazine pro who has travelled the globe writing about must-spritz fragrances, child poverty, beauty and grooming.