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Tony pictured smiling and on a walking trip

We shouldn’t think of breast cancer as a woman’s disease

10 years ago, Tony discovered he had breast cancer. Since then, he’s got involved with Breast Cancer Now to make other men aware of the risks.

I was hesitant to get my lump checked out 

In 2010, I felt some soreness in my left nipple while on holiday in Namibia. I thought it was probably down to irritation caused by the seatbelt when we were bouncing around on unmade roads. 

The soreness persisted when I got back to the UK, and later I noticed a lump under my nipple. I could tell it was getting bigger and did some research on the internet. I decided it was probably a cyst. 

However, in January 2011, my wife gave me a playful poke in the chest and felt the lump. By this time, it had got a lot bigger, and my nipple was turning inwards. My wife insisted I see my GP – up until now she hadn’t known I had a problem. 

I was initially reluctant to go to the doctor as, though I knew men could get breast cancer, the numbers were so small I thought it couldn’t happen to me. Then there was the fear of being diagnosed with any sort of cancer – and there’s a reluctance, in men especially, to go to the doctor. 

Another factor was not wanting to admit to having a disease that’s widely thought of as something that only affects women. People might think you’re less of a man. 

My diagnosis was a shock to my family 

After five months, I finally saw my GP. He examined me and didn’t think it was anything serious but referred me to the breast clinic as a precaution. 

I still didn’t think I had breast cancer. 

It wasn’t until the doctor at the clinic examined me and I could see her expression that I knew it was something serious. A biopsy confirmed I had breast cancer. 

My diagnosis was a shock to us all. My wife was extremely supportive and sensitive. We found it very difficult to tell our children, even though they were grown up. 

Three days after my diagnosis, I had a mastectomy. In March, I started 18 weeks of chemotherapy. I also had a lymph node clearance, followed by three weeks of radiotherapy. I finished treatment in October 2011, and I’ve been taking tamoxifen since. 

Being a man made some things easier, but other things much harder 

The plus side of being a man was that I didn’t have any issues with losing a breast, although I sometimes feel a little self-conscious when I go swimming. 

Hair loss during chemotherapy also wasn’t a problem (I didn’t have much anyway), and not having to shave so much was a bonus. However, I’ve come to understand that not all men take my view of treatment, and the side effects of a mastectomy and chemotherapy can have a greater impact on women. 

The downside of being a man is that breast cancer is regarded as a woman's disease. This means a man can feel very isolated and not be able to talk to someone of the same sex. My sister was diagnosed in 2008 and remained in contact with women who were treated at the same time. 

Meanwhile, I was in a room of my own and didn’t speak to another man who’d had breast cancer until I took part in the Breast Cancer Now fashion show in 2014. 

It was also irritating when nurses assumed it was my wife who was the patient, when I was attending an appointment. 

I have found positives in my diagnosis 

Because both my sister and I had been diagnosed with breast cancer, the hospital team was keen for me to have genetic testing. It turned out we both had an altered BRCA2 gene, which increases the risk of breast cancer. This has given us a lot of heartache, worrying about passing the gene on to future generations. 

Still, there have been positives resulting from breast cancer.  

Being able to help with the Someone Like Me service has given me a great deal of satisfaction, as well as talking to other men. I have met and talked to some inspirational men and women because of volunteering with Breast Cancer Now.   

Another positive is that I feel more focused on the future and less inclined to think about the past, and I’m more likely to take up opportunities which I would not have considered before. 

I have taken part in support groups for men with breast cancer

I have also taken part in a peer-to-peer support group for men with experience of a breast cancer diagnosis. The UK’s first virtual meet-ups were set up by Dr Kerry Quincey, a Senior Lecturer in Psychology at De Montfort University, Leicester, working with the American organisation, Male Breast Cancer Coalition, lead moderator Doug Harper, and grant-making charity Walk the Walk.

On 16 June 2021, I also attended the latest in-person meet up of the men working with Walk the Walk on their Men Get Breast Cancer Too campaign, which they run in collaboration with other charities including Breast Cancer Now.

We need to support other men with breast cancer 

My wife has been, without doubt, the biggest help to me both during and since diagnosis. We have goals of things we want to do, places to visit. This has helped to take my mind off the side effects of treatment and keep me focused on the future. 

To other men who might go through what I have, I would say that breast cancer is no different from other cancers. There’s a myth that only women can get breast cancer, but it’s not true. Men can – and do – get it too. 

Do not think of it as a woman’s disease; just have the treatment, do what the professionals tell you, and be determined to come out the other side. There can be differences in the treatment side effects suffered by men and women, and unfortunately little research from the male perspective, but hopefully this will change. 

Breast cancer in men

To familiarise yourself with the signs and symptoms of breast cancer in men, take a look at our information pages.

Find out more about breast cancer in men

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