What happens when a transmasculine man getsbreast cancer? Well, let me tell you.
Meet YeeWon. Back in 2000, YeeWon moved from rural Minnesota to Boston, Massachusetts where he started to go through the emotional and social stages of transitioining to become transgender by telling friends.
After moving to Portland, Oregon, YeeWon was very eager to find a naturopathic primary care physician who understood transgender healthcare. He looked for someone he could rely on for good health advice. YeeWon eventually decided to have top surgery (a gender affirming procedure involving the removal of breast tissue) in 2012.
YeeWon is a planner. He's organized and in charge of his body. He was very good at staying on top of his annual check-ups and was feeling great when he went in to see his physician back in 2016. Though he had breast tissue remove in top surgery, not all of his tissue was removed, so it's important physicians know what to look for in transgender people who have undergone this type of surgery.
After a thorough examination, his doctor found a lump. With an ultrasound and biopy, it was confirmed YeeWon had Stage 2 breast cancer.
Like many of us, YeeWon was shocked. He was scared and overwhelmed. But due to his Buddhist beliefs, he had a sense of knowing this too shall pass.
After having a lumpectomy, YeeWon's margins came back thin. He needed a double mastectomy, six weeks of radiation and complete hysterectomy because of his BARD genetic testing results.
It was right around this time, YeeWon's housemate and chosen family member, Brooks - also a transmasculine person - was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Two dudes with "lady" cancers. What were the odds?
For the next year, both YeeWon and Brooks faced the swirling of appointments and information overload. The only silver lining they could find was they had each other, a very supportive community and a story to tell. They felt empowered.
With YeeWon as an advocate of transgender justice and Brooks as a talented film producer, the two of them came together to share their story in hopes to inspire the world. Not only was their experience unique, but gave a peak behind the curtain of the healthcare system and lack of resources and preparedness for the transgender community. They found:
- Cancer registeries were using Male and Female only genders
- Most healthcare providers are not trained to understand transgender health and often give inaccurate information
- Hospitals are getting better at providing options for gender identification, but insurance companies are way behind
- There is much more, but you have to keep reading...
When I asked YeeWon what kept him feeling strong, his immediate responses was his chosen family. He expressed his emotions took a toll on him. But something changed inside of him, and he took a 180-degree turn and opened up, asking friends to come to chemo appointments (which they happily obliged). "Seeing myself shift to become more vulnerable made my friendships and relationships stronger, which made me stronger," says YeeWon.
"Seeing myself shift to become more vulnerable made my friendships and relationships stronger, which made me stronger."
YeeWon has always been in charge of his body, and even more so now. "I give myself space to rest and be lazy when I need to. I am more intentional about pausing to figure out what my body is telling me," he says.
Now, YeeWon is a 5-year breast cancer survivor, an advocate for transgender justice, a film producer and even a model for MakeMerry! (alongside me!)
YeeWon's positive outlook on life and "I will survive this too" attitude reinforces everything we are trying to do here at Fighting Pretty.
YeeWon loved to reflect on his experience and look at the juxtaposition between suffering, and the joy of having people around who love and support you unconditionally. He reinforced the idea that friends and family don't know what to do for you while you're in your fight against cancer, and there is nothing more valuable than just "being there."
YeeWon's cancer story is such of triumph and transformation, and we are delighted and honored to share it. To learn more about YeeWon's experience, click below to watch his film, Trans Dudes with Lady Cancer:
Like YeeWon said, as a friend of someone battling cancer, it's hard to know what to do for someone you love.
By gifting our Fighting Pretty gloves of strength or designing a Pretty Package, you can support a friend of family member battling cancer near or far. If you need us, we're here to help.
Article written by founder of Fighting Pretty and 13 year breast cancer survivor, Kara Skaflestad.