The following article appeared in The Mail on Sunday. It was written by freelance reporter Victoria Lambert. I searched for a possible website belonging to Ms Lambert to no avail, so unfortunately, no link is available.
I reprinted it here since I feel its important and I know that online newspapers do not keep many articles available forever.
I know the majority of my readers may very well be female, but breast cancer, the scourge of many women is not picky. Age and gender are set aside as it rampages through our world. I therefore felt that there was a need for me to post a reprint of this article for you, my readers, and also for those of you who happen to come across my blog via a search.
The article was entitled ‘I was the first man to be treated by my surgeon for breast cancer’ and bore the byline of “What happens when a man is diagnosed with a disease usually associated with women”, and reads, interestingly enough, like a journal entry.
As a survivor of breast cancer who is involved in raising not only awareness but also donations towards research into finding a cure, I was not aware myself, until 2007 that breast cancer not only affects 1 out of 800 men, but that more men die from breast cancer than women. The reason for this is possibly because:
a) men are not made aware that this killer can affect them
b) because they are not aware, they do not consider checking themselves
This is something that can affect us all. Please tell those you love, those whose friendships you cherish and ask them to do the same. Make everyone aware.
Breast cancer is all too common among women – one in nine will suffer from it at some point in their lives. And, although rare, men suffer from the disease, too. Here, JAMES THOMPSON, a 50-year-old HR manager from Cheshire, who is married with three children, talks candidly about what it was like to discover a lump in his breast – and how he is learning to love the colour pink.
Without looking up, the receptionist asked: ‘When did you last have a mammogram?’ I coughed. ‘Um, never had one,’ I replied. She stared up at me and I could see the shock in her eyes.
‘Oh, of course not, you’re a man,’ she said.
I have to laugh at those moments. Such as when I entered a hospital waiting room to find it full of women – and I’m the only man.
Or to think that my life – normally spent in the gym and swimming pool – is now being lived out in a series of feminine pink and lilac consulting rooms.
One in 800 men will contract breast cancer; and last autumn I learned to my astonishment that I was one of them. As someone who has lived a fit, active and healthy life, with no history of cancer in my family, the sheer notion that I would get it has been my first surprise.
And the irony is that even though I work at a pharmaceutical company that produces two of the most widely prescribed breast cancer drugs – Tamoxifen and Arimidex – I had simply no idea that men could get it.
I discovered my lump by accident. I was in the gym changing room and glanced across at a mirror. I noticed that my chest looked a little unbalanced, that the right side appeared bigger.
When I had a closer look, there was a lump about the size of a 50 pence piece to the left of my right nipple. It felt hard to the touch. I have annual medicals and was aware of prostate and testicular cancer but not of male breast cancer, so I gave it no more thought.
However, the following evening we were having dinner with a GP friend and the topic of breast cancer and how common it is came up. It prompted me to say with a laugh, ‘Well, I’ve got a lump, what do you think of that?’
My friend felt the lump and advised me to see my GP straight away. Of course, it never occurred to me that I might have breast cancer, I just imagined it would be a cyst.
I made an appointment for the next day, only to be referred to a consultant. Even then, I presumed it was just some sort of harmless growth.
I was sent off for further tests and had a biopsy, when a sample of tissue is extracted by needle under local anaesthetic. It was at this point that the funny side began to strike me. Everywhere I went, I was the only male patient.
The following week, I returned for my results. I realised I was facing bad news when the consultant came in, no longer accompanied by a nurse but by a stern-looking woman who was a counsellor.
The doctor didn’t beat around the bush: he told me I had cancer and that it was category one, which he said was the best type to have, and they had caught it early.
It felt like a rush at the time; you are bombarded with information that you don’t have time to think about as you are still struggling to digest the basic news that you have the Big C.
My counsellor – a Macmillan volunteer – proved very useful. She went over the conversation explaining treatment plans and drug regimes.
My consultant wanted me to have a lumpectomy plus removal of all the lymph glands in the area so they could be tested to see if the cancer had spread.
If it had been caught, I would probably be placed on Tamoxifen. If the cancer had spread, we’d be moving on to chemotherapy.
She then showed me a cross-section of the breast to explain how the operation would work. That, too, added to my general sense of unreality – and, to be honest, hilarity – as it was a female breast.
I was told I would lose my nipple and would gain an impressive scar – hardly the same as how a full mastectomy must feel to a woman.
When I went online for information, I realised it was focused towards women. ‘It’s a girl thing – help us beat breast cancer,’ says the slogan on Cancer Research UK.
The complications caused by my gender went on. When I was being allocated a ward, I was marked down for the ‘breast cancer ward’, only for one of the nurses to pipe up: ‘That’s women-only.’
I decided to use my health insurance and went private.
The operation went well, although I later found out that I was my surgeon’s first male breast cancer patient.
The procedure took about two hours, during which time my tumour – which had developed by now to a stage two in severity – was removed, along with all my lymph nodes.
And the prognosis has been good; there is no spread and I won’t need chemotherapy. I will instead take Tamoxifen for five years to prevent recurrence.
But what I wasn’t warned about was the possibility of lymphoedema – chronic swelling caused because the lymph drainage system is no longer working – in my right arm.
I’ve been warned that I will have to be careful about what sports I play; tennis may be out because it places a high impact on the arm.
I may have to give up other hobbies such as claypigeon shooting, Scottish dancing and gardening in case I get a scratch that becomes infected. I will still be able to swim – but not the crawl.
There is no doubt that I have encountered a lot of embarrassment. People just don’t know how to talk to a man with breast cancer.
We men are secretive about this sort of thing; we find it difficult to share our feelings. Women are much better at it – but having said that, my family and friends, indeed everyone I have told, have been supportive and the medical staff have all been remarkable.
I am feeling positive as I head into 2009, determined to enjoy the party my wife and I have planned to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary, and landmark birthdays for our children, too.
Meanwhile, I am a blue bloke in a pink world- the drugs are in pink boxes, the consulting rooms are pink, I even have a small pink enamel ribbon that I wear to pharmaceutical conferences.
For now, I’ve only one request: wouldn’t it be brilliant if men were made a little more aware and that the breast cancer symbol of pink ribbon might be given a thread of blue running through it?
• Interview by Victoria Lambert.