The Cancer No One Talks About: 1in6 Thursdays on the Joyful Heart Foundation Blog
I recently attended a fundraiser for several friends of mine that are riding in the Tour de Pink, a two-day 250-mile bike ride to benefit the Young Survivors Coalition, (breast cancer survivors). Seeing so many people supporting the fight against cancer has a special place in my heart, as cancer has had a strong impact in my family. My aunt is a breast cancer survivor, my father died at the age of thirty-two in 1969 of colon cancer, and my grandfather survived a bout with colon cancer in the late 80’s . So, needless to say, I support all the efforts of any cancer fighting cause.
Unlike today, where so many people support the effort to fight cancer, when my father was diagnosed in 1967, cancer was not a subject that people openly talked about. In fact when my father was diagnosed with cancer, we were just told that he was sick, and it was only after he passed away that we were told he had died of cancer.
However, there’s another kind of cancer that still carries a stigma. Though it has likely been around as long as some of the physical cancers, it is not those kinds of cancer I want to discuss.
I am talking about a different type of cancer, an emotional cancer – a cancer that is as prevalent if not more prevalent, and effects as many, if not more people than physical cancers. It’s a type of cancer that attacks young boys as early as the age of two and, if left untreated, can eat away at their souls for the duration of their life. What kind of cancer am I talking about – the sexual abuse of boys that become men.
According to Breastcancer.org, about 1:8 women will develop breast cancer and the American Cancer Society states that 1:5 people will develop colon cancer and 1:67 will develop pancreatic cancer. In contrast, at least 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused before the age of eighteen. I will say in all fairness that the statistics for abused boys remains controversial, and understandably so, as only 10% of all cases are even reported.
When people are diagnosed with cancer, they are met with an abundance of love, sympathy and support from their doctors and family. Often they have the constant support from not only family and friends; often their community surrounds and supports them as well.
For instance, a personal friend of my family has a daughter who at the age of four-years-old, was diagnosed with Stage 4 high-risk neuroblastoma. With the efforts of my wife and many others, a Facebook page was developed and within six months almost two hundred thousand dollars was raised to help with the insurmountable medical bills her parents were receiving.
In contrast to the near-universal openness to talking about physical cancers. If a young boy goes to someone telling him that he has been sexually abused, his cry for help may be discarded as a fabricated story rather than truth. He may be told not to say any more about it, or ever to bring it up again.
Faced with the stigma imposed by male social norms, many boys never say anything in the first place. They may believe their family will be harmed or they will lose a variety of other emotional needs that are being met by the person who has abused them. Or, they may remain silent because they fear looking weak, or less of a man.
So instead they carry the secret into their adulthood. When they get tired of feeling the pain of their past trauma, tired of failed relationships, marriages and business failures, then and only then, they might speak out and seek help.
Speaking out about being sexually abused as a child takes a tremendous amount of courage. In the past, and unfortunately even sometimes now, this courage is far too often met with the male victim being shunned and shamed for speaking up. They may be told, “That happened along time ago. It’s time to grow up, get over it, and move on with your life.” These types of comments actually do more harm than good, and may push a man back into a world of isolation and addiction.
Slowly, people are now learning new ways to respond that support healing and recovery.
Sexual abuse is a cancer of the soul, and like any cancer; the best cure is love and understanding from family and friends. What I needed the most when I started my healing journey in 2006, was to be listened to and heard without judgment, believed, validated, supported, and not for you to fix me, but love me. When I received all of these from my counselors in treatment, I was finally able to move from a victim mentality to a courageous, healing, thriving survivor.
Randy Boyd is a licensed California Alcohol and Drug Counselor, the founder of the Courageous Healers Foundation, and an associate of “It Happens to Boys.” He speaks at conferences, schools, and treatment facilities, about the effects of abuse on men, and how men can heal from those effects. Randy is the author of the new groundbreaking book addressing the sexual abuse of boys entitled “Healing the Man Within”, a book for male survivors written by a male survivor.
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