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Before he was diagnosed in 2012, Doug had no idea men could get breast cancer. Now, he wants to raise awareness amongst other people and improve resources for men affected by breast cancer.
At the end of 2011, I noticed what I thought was a cyst on my left breast. I kept moaning about it, and eventually my wife told me to go and see the GP. So, I booked myself an appointment for two days before Christmas.
It started off fine - I was laughing and joking with the doctor but, as soon as I took my top off, he became quite serious. The next thing I know, he’s tapping away on his computer and telling me I need to go to hospital to get it checked out.
When I asked if it could be cancer, he told me that he couldn’t rule it out.
At that point, I didn’t know that men could get breast cancer. I’ve got a couple of mates who are nurses, so I asked them about it. They told me it was possible, but assured me that it was very rare.
However, three days before my 50th birthday, I found out it was breast cancer. I really didn’t think they were going to say that – and not because I’m optimistic (I’m really not!), but because I’d looked it up on Google and seen how few men actually get it.
When I went in to have my mastectomy, they discovered during the pre-op that I had type-2 diabetes, so the operation had to be pushed back a few weeks in order for me to get my blood sugar levels down.
Shortly after I did get around to having it, my mum passed away quite unexpectedly. I had to go to the funeral so soon after my surgery that I still had the drain in my armpit. I felt like some sort of vampire carrying around a bag of blood. I spent the whole time trying to hide it away – it must’ve looked awful.
I later needed another drain because I had more surgery to remove my lymph nodes, and that one fell out. The hospital couldn’t put it back in and, without it, I started to develop this lump under my arm. It looked like it was full of liquid.
A few weeks later, when I went in for chemotherapy, a nurse asked me how I was feeling. Ironically, they need to check you’re healthy enough before they can give you treatment which makes you sick. I told her I hadn’t been eating normally, which was strange for me. When she felt my chest, something obviously concerned her because she went and got someone else to talk to me.
It turned out that the lump had burst and become infected. I spent a week on a hospital ward, as the infection had got into my system and become life-threatening.
One of the first things I did when I got my diagnosis was start a blog in order to raise awareness. My wife encouraged me to do it after I posted on Facebook with the news, as a lot of people had commented saying they didn’t know men could get breast cancer.
I’ve tried to keep up raising awareness ever since, especially as so many men don’t know the risk.
The death rate in men with breast cancer is quite high because they don’t get diagnosed soon enough. I’ve heard of men being told to wait for months to see if anything changes. I was lucky enough to have a doctor who took my symptoms seriously because, if I was told that, I probably would never have gone back unless it got really bad.
The first thing I did with Breast Cancer Now was taking part in The Show in 2012. I was going through chemotherapy at the time, so I was bald as a coot, but I was ok with it. My hair was one of the few things I actually felt in control of during my treatment, and I’d made the decision to shave it all before it fell out.
That was also the first time I met another man with breast cancer, which was really emotional. We didn’t even talk about the cancer that much – it was just good to meet someone who knew what I was going through.
Of course, I had spoken to other women who had breast cancer. There was a group of women I’d call my sisters, and I got a lot of comfort and advice from them, but it’s not quite the same.
Now, we have the Virtual Meet Up group for men. I wish that had been around when I was first diagnosed, but breast cancer in men wasn’t really recognised properly 10 years ago.
Since then, though, Breast Cancer Now have been brilliant. They’ve really listened to us and given us the time and space to talk about male breast cancer. Even just the information on their website is so helpful – much more helpful than just turning to Google!
The majority of people diagnosed with breast cancer are women, so when you’re a man with breast cancer, it can be hard to find people who understand. At Breast Cancer Now, we’re here for anyone affected with breast cancer, and are always looking for ways we can support you better.
One of our most popular services is our online discussion Forum, which is open to anyone affected by breast cancer, every step of the way. It’s a space where you can talk to thousands of people with real experience of breast cancer.
You told us that we needed to do more for men affected by breast cancer. So, we’ve created a space just for men on our Forum. It’s a confidential area where you can share tips and information, and talk about what’s on your mind, with other men who really get it.