PUBLISHED ON: 4 December 2021

Chris’ wife, Miriam, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2020. When she began supporting others after her radiotherapy treatment, Chris realised he could play a part in supporting other men who were going through the same experience as him.

Chris and Miriam, an older couple, enjoying a day at a stony beach. They are both sporting blue caps and wide smiles.

Miriam could tell something wasn’t right

My wife, Miriam, had regular mammograms. They would show that her breasts were lumpy, but the radiographers always assured her she had nothing to worry about. When she went in December 2019, the results showed everything to be normal.

However, in March 2020, Miriam mentioned feeling an uncomfortable lump. She continued to monitor it but, once the lump became sore and (in her opinion) started growing, she took action.

Miriam is in-tune with her health because she’s lived with a diagnosis of ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis) and fibromyalgia for over 25 years – though you wouldn’t know it if you saw her.

In the year 2000, realising the scientific route was not working for her, she decided to stop her medication and to go down the natural route. She changed her diet, researched supplements that supported her, and began a daily routine of walking and yoga which increased her energy, while ensuring she rested each afternoon for three hours. Over time, these changes really helped. Being in tune with her health ensures she knows her body well and can tell if something isn’t right.

So, in May 2020, Miriam contacted her GP about the lump. Within 10 days, she was referred for a mammogram, scan and a biopsy. Three weeks later, it was confirmed as breast cancer. On 30 June, she had a lumpectomy and two lymph nodes removed.

We are the type of people to just deal with things

When we first got the news, it took me back to when my dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer in October 2010. After his appointment, I drove us back home. We didn’t say a lot – I think because we were both stunned by the prognosis. He died six weeks later.

On the drive home with Miriam, though, we talked openly about how we would approach her cancer. I believe there are two ways of approaching any situation: you can get involved with the drama, or you can accept it and deal with it. Miriam and I are good communicators, unafraid to discuss openly any health issues.

Following her surgery, Miriam slept in the guest bedroom for many months, needing to heal and rest. Her sleep was constantly disrupted. I supported her by running the house, helping her up, preparing meals, redressing her wound. She made no fuss. I totally respect how she dealt with her recovery - never losing her sense of humour or positivity.

Miriam knows she is very lucky, as she caught her cancer at stage 1.

We couldn’t find any support groups

In September, following a five-day course of radiotherapy, her ME and fibromyalgia flared up. She was mentally and physically exhausted and struggled with small everyday tasks for a year. Nevertheless, she remained positive and coped well, completing small everyday tasks, and was already back at her desk writing within a month. She says it is a form of healing therapy and gives her focus.

Miriam continues to cope the fallout, but we remain hopeful her situation will change.

Apart from the excellent support from the NHS, Miriam received one phone call and little other support - although promises had been made. Equally, though, she believed she would recover well on her own merit.

At the same time, I became aware there were no support groups in place for partners of women with breast cancer. I had checked each time we attended one of the hospitals but saw nothing.

Supporting others gave us both a sense of purpose

Late last year, at a scheduled appointment with her oncologist, Miriam mentioned she had not received any support.

Her oncologist immediately contacted Someone Like Me who reached out within days. Her oncologist also asked if her local NHS trust could contact her. Miriam agreed and, in Febuary this year, she became the face of the NHS ‘safe access’ campaign for cancer patients in Kent and Medway. Miriam felt this was a great way of ‘giving back’ – doing something to encourage other people to come forward and get checked if they noticed any symptoms which could indicate breast cancer.

Then, in July, I was invited by the CEO of a local charity to help set up a local cancer support group. I immediately agreed. I don’t believe in retirement; there’s no such word in my life. I think that, when people get to 60, we have a responsibility to share the skills we have obtained – whatever they are. So, I began volunteering there and it is already much needed and appreciated.

The meetings consisted of  men and women talking about their personal experiences. Listening to these poignant stories can be exhausting, but has been worth my time. After a while, I concluded that Someone Like Me might consider giving a talk, or teaching me what to talk about so that we can provide more support to people in the group.

Miriam had previously been contacted by Someone Like Me and, through conversations with a few of their assigned volunteers, she has been given immeasurable support. For my part, I decided to contact a male volunteer and I wished to hear the approach he takes when supporting other male partners.

It’s so important for men to talk about their emotions

I think it’s important to hear about providing support from a man’s perspective – no matter the gender of the person who has cancer – because we don’t often hear men talking about how they feel. Miriam and I have been married for 25 years, but it took her many years to encourage me to talk about my emotions.

I also hope to sign up as a volunteer for Someone Like Me so that I can help men who are supporting a partner through breast cancer.

If someone came to me for support, I would ask them what they think they need, and ask how they feel by opening up a conversation between us.

I am always wary of giving advice, too, but if there is one thing I would say it’s, ‘Be kind to yourself.’ Whether you have cancer or are supporting someone with cancer, we must firstly take care of our own needs. How can we give to others if we are not taking care of ourselves?

 

If you feel you need some extra support while dealing with a breast cancer diagnosis, or you'd like to support someone else, you can reach out to our Someone Like Me service.

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