Cancer doesn't have a gender -
With just 350 men a year in the UK diagnosed with breast cancer, Russ' shares his experiences of being a man in a female dominated illness
“Yes, we know its Breast Cancer, bi-lateral (that’s both sides), but we have a plan”.
That’s what I was greeted with when I went for the previous week’s biopsy results. I had half-expected something was up, but not that – not Breast Cancer, when a) I'm a man b) Never knew of anyone else in my family having this
For the first time, I felt the blood draining from my face – hard to take
in, wasn't really listening, then off to a ‘quiet room’ where I was left to contemplate for a few minutes. Didn't really feel like reading the pamphlets on display. Then another chat (one-way really) with the consultant, and then outside to call my partner, Kelly. That was tough & scary at the same time - she was waiting for the call, but I didn't know how she would take it. Brilliantly, as it turned out.
So the plan – double mastectomy, 6x chemo sessions, 15x radiotherapy sessions, and all should be well. Well, by and large that’s how it was. There were some hiccups along the way; additional surgery for lymph node removal (now have lymphoedema in both legs and slight case in the arms), chemo was delayed because of the lymph removal surgery took time to heal, a few infections, but a year later and I was back at work.
The treatment from Royal Derby Hospital was faultless – every appointment was on time, staff were brilliant (think they liked having the local freak visit them J). There was obviously some interest from Junior Doctors who hadn't come in to contact with Male Breast Cancer, and I did support them with studies and answering questions – after all, if all the girls in the past who have gone through this hadn't helped the medics learn about the disease, we wouldn't be where we are now.
So as a male, what was it like? Surreal, really. Feelings of empathy towards women who have to do this, realising that it’s an emotional as well as a physical disease. But above all, I found that my inner self controlled how I appeared to others. That should be no different for males or females. Be strong-willed and it will pass. Kelly puts it perfectly – “it was just another pickle to get through”. Her support was tremendous. Our friends made sure they kept in touch, always ready to pop round or go for a beer.
So right now, after being back at work 18 months, I’m helping a dear friend get through the same thing; she’s in early treatment stages, no surgery yet, but incredibly hopeful and determined to beat it. She called me ‘her inspiration’ – it’s the absolute least I can do.