Breast cancer in men
It’s rare, but it’s there
Approximately 420 men in the UK are diagnosed with breast cancer every year. that’s just over 1 man diagnosed every day.
Many people are unaware that men can develop breast cancer because they don’t consider men to have breasts. In fact, all men naturally have a small amount of breast tissue behind the nipple area. this contains small ducts (tubes) which is where breast cancer can potentially develop. Approximate 1% of all breast cancer cases in the UK occur in men.
David and Doug have each had breast cancer. They agreed to share their stories with us to help dispel any misconceptions. Men get breast cancer.
Its 2011, I’m Forty nine years old and the father to four girls from a previous marriage and a one-year-old son with my muse, Sarah. Unemployed since early 2009 after 31 years in the printing industry, I was desperately trying to reinvent myself in a different industry.
I was just an average, good guy, and then I found out that I was different. I became one of only 300 men a year (at that time) in the UK to have breast cancer! I had no idea before being diagnosed that men could get breast cancer. My partner had no idea that men could get breast cancer. My friends, my family, seemingly no one seemed to be aware that men could get breast cancer. And yet there I stood, well sat actually, with a cancerous lump in my chest, and on the verge of soon losing my nipple.
A few days before Christmas 2011, I went to see my doctor. To be honest, I was getting worried about the lump on my nipple which seemed to have escalated in the last couple of months. In true man style, I thought I would ignore it and it would go away.
My doctor looked concerned when he saw the lump and sent me for a scan. I was worried, but in the back of my mind I was thinking that it would all be fine. This kind of thing happens to other people. Two weeks later I went for tests and had to wait until January 12th for the results.
‘Hello Mr. Harper, we have the results of your tests, and I am afraid that you have cancer-CANCER. The word went around my head. CANCER-CANCER-CANCER-CANCER. The last word you want to hear. I was in the room for five minutes and the consultant said a lot, but I heard nothing except CANCER-CANCER-CANCER-CANCER. It is possibly the most taboo word in the English dictionary.
I had six rounds of chemo that affected me to varying degrees and 15 hits of radiotherapy that ended just before Christmas 2012.
The main advantage (if there is such a thing) about being a bloke with breast cancer, is that when you contact anyone in hospital, they usually know who you are as there are very few of us about. There are obvious disadvantages as well. Most of the literature and groups are female focused and everything is pink !
So where am I now you may ask… Well, in 2021 I am still cancer free but, on the downside, I now have chronic fatigue syndrome brought on by one of the drugs (Tamoxifen) in my cancer treatment. I am often tired and fatigued and have short term memory loss among other things, but I am still here! It must be stressed that everyone reacts differently to treatments and not all treatments are the same.
On a massive plus side, I recently co-founded The Men’s VMU (Virtual Meet Up); a dedicated group for men who have or have had breast cancer, meeting up online once a month to chat about our experiences (among other things). We started this in October 2020 and up until then, I had only ever spoken to one other chap who had breast cancer. I cannot explain how great it feels to connect with others that have gone through what I did and to offer each other support and advice.
We all want to spread awareness that men can get breast cancer too and to stop it early enough to get treatment and save lives.
Imagine noticing an inverted nipple.
Imagine stalling seeing the Doctor for a month before you ask about it.
Imagine being told you have breast cancer.
Imagine you are told you need a mastectomy.
Imagine being told it’s in your lymph nodes and you need all of them removing so it can’t spread around your body.
Imagine being told by your employer you have used up your sick pay entitlement… and you should be on Statutory Sick Pay.
Imagine you are told two family members also have cancer at the same time as you.
Imagine your chemotherapy is delayed by a month because of repeated infections.
Imagine being told by your employer you have been overpaid and will have to pay it all back at some point.
Imagine when chemotherapy does start, all your hair falls out on Christmas day, just as you’re going to see your grand children.
Imagine being refused personal independence payment and scoring zero points in that health assessment.
Imagine feeling lonely and isolated.
Imagine the friends you thought you had not visiting or calling…
Imagine feeling constantly sick, or tired, or in pain, or scared or depressed.
Imagine having to choose wealth over health and venturing back to work, in between cancer treatments in order to financially stay afloat.
Imagine being terrified that you will get a cold or an infection during chemotherapy.
Imagine then, three weeks after returning to work, a worldwide virus potentially killing the elderly and the unhealthy and the vulnerable arrives.
Imagine not having the strength to rush around supermarkets jostling for toilet rolls and baked beans.
Imagine the relief when you are told you can work from home.
Imagine the distress when you are told you must isolate for 12 weeks or more, remember you have in all but name, been isolating for the last five months.
Imagine attending hospital for your weekly chemotherapy and being told your last three sessions have been cancelled because of Covid-19.
Imagine being told your radiotherapy will be delayed and your bisphosphonate treatment cancelled until the virus has gone.
Imagine thinking you will not be completing the original treatment and wondering ‘does this leave me at risk?’
Imagine having to fully rely and trust the Doctors making those decisions.
Imagine all this
IMAGINE again YOU have just been told YOU have breast cancer and you are a Man.
Breast cancer sucks big time, but as a man in the predominately pink world that is breast cancer it’s a lonely place because those like you are rare.
And rarer still are those who openly talk about it.
So, I decided to talk openly about this disease, in order to leave a light on, or the door open for any other man to stop by and talk.
When we talk to each other we realise we are not alone in this battle. And it really is alright to talk…