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Men with breast cancer, like me, need support too

Richard found out he had primary breast cancer in 2015. Now he supports other men with breast cancer and encourages them to ask for help.

What’s your experience of breast cancer?

I was diagnosed with a stage 2 ductile carcinoma. I had a mastectomy and got lymph nodes removed. But my lymph nodes were clear, so I didn’t need radiotherapy or chemotherapy.

For me, my diagnosis was just another life challenge that I had to deal with. I didn’t escape the negative thoughts, but I felt like I could deal with them. I consider myself lucky when my diagnosis could have been a whole lot worse.

After my breast cancer diagnosis, I decided to join the Men’s Virtual Meet Up (VMU). It’s a monthly online support group for men who’ve had breast cancer.

How did you get involved in supporting men with breast cancer?

For me, it’s all about trying to give something back and help others. Initially, I gave a couple of talks for Macmillan about my cancer journey, and I did Walk the Walk in 2017. In 2015, I found out about the men’s VMU, and I decided to get involved.

Through the men’s VMU, I linked up with Breast Cancer Now and became a volunteer for  Someone Like Me. As a volunteer, I speak to men who are going through what I did, and I show them they’re not alone.

Richard wearing his Breast Cancer Now t-shirt

In your experience, how can a breast cancer diagnosis affect men’s mental health?

I think men have always been taught to be strong and be providers. So, when they can’t, they can feel weak and like they’re a failure.

Some people feel like their family and friends are slipping away, and they don’t understand why this is happening. This can make them feel deserted and like everything’s hard to cope with.

What are the other challenges men face around breast cancer?

Many people see breast cancer as a disease that just affects women. So, men need to deal with that, as well as everything else that comes with a diagnosis.

Getting a timely diagnosis is important for a better outcome. But some men put off going to the GP, or don’t go back if they’re told it may be a cyst. Fortunately, I went back after 2 months. I’ve heard from others who left it longer before going back, by which time the cancer had spread.

Another issue we face is that clinics’ signs, posters, and information aren’t as inclusive of men.

Why do you think men should reach out for support?

A breast cancer diagnosis can be a troubling time. It’s important that men talk about their concerns, with either support workers or other men who’ve faced the same challenges.

It can help them understand their diagnosis a bit better, and the issues they’re facing. And I think it would help them come to terms with their diagnosis.

What would you say to a man who has just been diagnosed?

Your hospital with assign you with a breast care nurse who’ll be there for you through your treatment. Ask your nurse what support is available for men.

It’s not a one-size-fits-all, and finding the right type of support for you is important. There’s the helpline, the online forum and Someone Like Me, and there’s lots of useful information out there. There’s also the men’s VMU, which is a great source of support. You can join by emailing co-founder Doug Harper at doug.harper@themensvmu.org.

Is there anything else you'd like to say?

Guys, check your breasts. Ladies, make sure all the men in your life are aware they can get breast cancer too.

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