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Dave has lost several close friends and family members to breast cancer, so was quick to get himself checked when he found a lump on his chest. Now, he is keen to use his experience to educate others.
22 August 2015: my birthday. I was on holiday in Florida, and was taking a shower when I felt a lump between my nipple and armpit. It wasn’t sore, and I just thought it was a boil.
At the time, I didn’t tell anyone about it - not even my partner.
I’d had a lump 15 years earlier on the other side of my chest which had turned out to be a fatty deposit, so I thought it could be that. Back then, however, I had read about breast cancer in men.
My brother died from Leukaemia when he was just three years old, so my mother always drummed into me the importance of checking my body. Even so, I wasn’t aware that men should check their breasts – but I was acutely aware that, if your body changes, you shouldn’t ignore it.
Sadly, I have lost close friends to cancer as they ignored signs that weren’t right. Also, my mother died from ovarian cancer when she was 68 years old, and I knew there was a link between ovarian and breast cancer.
On returning from my holiday, I went to see my GP. She checked the area and said it was quite common for men to get fatty deposits, but referred me to a specialist consultant to make doubly sure it wasn’t anything to worry about. It was at this point that I told my partner about the lump.
I had private healthcare, so I didn’t use a breast clinic. Instead, I saw a consultant at a private hospital who is well-known in Bristol for treating breast cancer patients. As soon as he did the ultrasound, his face changed. I could see the scan myself and knew it didn’t look good.
The consultant took a biopsy there and then, and it went straight to the lab as a matter of urgency. When I got home, I started googling images of breast cancer and I just knew that’s what I had.
A week later, I was diagnosed with hormone receptive breast cancer. The tumour was the size of a golf ball. I think the reason I hadn’t come across it earlier was that I am a big man, and the lump wasn’t hard.
I wasn’t exactly shocked by the news, but I defy anybody who receives a cancer diagnosis not to be a bit scared. It was also tough telling my children the news, but they are all grown-up and were very supportive.
I went to a group counselling session at the Penny Brohn Centre in Bristol. It was a good experience, but in hindsight I should maybe have sought further support.
In terms of treatment, I had a mastectomy and all the lymph nodes from my right arm removed. I remember asking my surgeon whether he could save my nipple but, when he explained the risks in doing so, I realised it was better just to lose it.
This was followed by six sessions of chemotherapy and 20 sessions of radiotherapy. I was fortunate enough to have the chemo at home, and the oncology department where I had radio was only a 10-minute drive away.
I’ve not felt embarrassed about the physical changes cancer has made to my body. I personally believe it’s easier for a man to lose a breast, as it’s not linked to how I feel about my body.
Having cancer was a positive experience in many ways, as it made me take a good look at my life and reassess things.
I have never felt less of a man in a way that I believe some men do when diagnosed with breast cancer. Right from the start, I decided to cope with my diagnosis by facing it head on. In fact, the first thing I did when I got the news was to register for The Moonwalk.
I feel in good health now and continue to take tamoxifen – which has had interesting side effects. I am so much calmer now, and I take things in my stride. I was talking to my consultant, and he commented that the tamoxifen could be interacting with my testosterone, lessening the hormone that makes men aggressive.
Overall, there seems to be a lack of research into the impact of tamoxifen on male breast cancer patients. It is obviously mainly prescribed to women, and I am told that it reduces the chance of the cancer returning from 30% to 8%, but there seems to be no hard evidence for men.
I’m quite happy to talk to complete strangers about my breast cancer experience if the topic comes up in conversation.
I can honestly say that I’ve never, ever had anyone make a negative comment about my breast cancer or even been teased about it. That’s saying something as I work in quite a male-dominated environment where it’s common to make jokes!
My friends were extremely supportive throughout my treatment. We all chatted openly, and it really helped me to deal with it. I would be lying if I said I didn’t have moments when I felt low, but I just went onto Facebook and spoke about it - hopefully it helped others going through the same thing as me.
There is still not enough awareness around male breast cancer I did a presentation about male breast cancer to 2,500 of my former colleagues in the Police Federation. It was great to shine a light on the disease and the importance of men checking their chest area.
However, I still believe that there is not enough awareness. When I listen to radio programmes about breast cancer, they usually don’t even mention that men can get it. If it is a call-in show I try to get through and make sure I get the message out there.
Six years on from my diagnosis, I am still No Evidence of Disease, and continue to work with charities such as Walk the Walk. Most prominently, I am one of the two moderators of a UK based support group for men with breast cancer known as the ‘Virtual Meet-up’ which meets on-line each month.
This group, setup with the assistance of Walk the Walk and Dr Kerry Quincey of De Montfort University in Leicester, has become the leading support group for men with/recovering from the disease. If any other men with breast cancer are reading this, we hope they get involved!
When you’re facing breast cancer, it can help to talk it through with someone who’s been there too. Our Someone Like Me service has male and female volunteers who are there to listen and support you.