“I was 36, when I discovered a lump near the nipple on my left breast, but wasn’t concerned about it all – I thought it was just a fatty lump. I didn’t say anything to my wife Karen about it at the time, but about three months later, she felt the lump too, while we were lying on the bed. She urged me to go to the doctor to get it checked out.
My GP told me it was probably nothing, but that he’d refer me to Maidstone Hospital, just in case. They gave me a mammogram and an ultrasound. I was then taken into a side room and remember vividly what a weird experience it was. Three medical staff came in and they told me I had breast cancer. The news came totally out of the blue, I really wasn’t expecting it – I remember feeling very hot and faint and was totally gobsmacked, as I didn’t even know that men could get breast cancer. The thought that it might be breast cancer wasn’t even on my mind when I first went to the doctor – we had no history of breast cancer in the family. It was very difficult telling everyone about my diagnosis – some people even questioned whether men could actually get breast cancer.
At the time, the charity Breast Cancer Care gave me some leaflets and support and I also attended a support group at the hospital. I went a couple of times, but to be honest, I found it very difficult to talk about my feelings at that time, in front of a group of women.
HER2-positive breast cancer was confirmed by my oncologist and we discussed the next steps. My treatment was a mastectomy with lymph node clearance (they discovered cancer in three of my lymph nodes), then radiotherapy and chemotherapy. The consultant told me that I also needed to take drugs which would benefit me going forward – the one recommended for me, with my type of cancer, was Herceptin. But there was a huge stumbling block – I was being treated under private health insurance and they wouldn’t fund Herceptin to treat breast cancer. The NHS did fund Herceptin for women with breast cancer, but not for men. After experiencing the initial shock of my diagnosis, my wife Karen was utterly determined that I should get the drug and started a press campaign. It worked and we won our case – I got funding to receive Herceptin on the NHS! It was a huge weight off my shoulders.
The treatment worked and everything was fine until 2012, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer for a second time. I was trying to get a bit fitter, by going to the gym, but while I was there, I started to get some pain in the middle of my chest. It also hurt when I coughed or sneezed, so I had an x-ray at the hospital, which showed a small black spot on my sternum. I also had a CT scan and a biopsy and was diagnosed with HER2-positive breast cancer again – it was a second primary cancer and connected to my first diagnosis 7 years previously. I had an operation at Guy’s Hospital in London to remove my lower sternum and they sewed a Goretex patch onto my ribs, which made my chest quite spongy. I had more chemotherapy and was put back on Herceptin.
Again, all was well for several years, until March 2017 when I decided to get myself checked out again, having had a cough for a while. I had a CT scan, which showed nodules in my lungs – this time it was secondary breast cancer. The news knocked me for six – mentally this was a totally different ballgame. Basically, I was told that the cancer in my lungs could be treated, but not cured.
A few years on and at the moment, my health is stable and I have regular scans. I’m having Herceptin and Perjeta intravenously and Tamoxifen orally, which are working! The secondary cancer is still there in my lungs, but has reduced. My health is generally good and I’m tolerating the treatment well, although I do get quite tired. I also have side effects from the Tamoxifen– hot flushes and some aches and pains in my joints. I haven’t worked since my last cancer diagnosis and I suffer from anxiety too. I have very good family support and also have a group of women diagnosed with breast cancer who I’ve become close friends with – we look after each other.
My advice to other men is to keep checking themselves and if they find something unusual to act! My sons James and Josh were only 10 and 8 years old when I was first diagnosed with breast cancer – they were old enough at the time to understand what was happening and know that they should check themselves regularly. We’ve always been open and honest with them about my diagnosis and treatment.
I’ve met a few men in person over the years who have had breast cancer. I’ve done two charity fashion shows and modelled with another man each time along with the women. It was good to talk to someone else in the same position as me, someone who totally understands what you’ve been going through over the years. I’m really pleased to be part of Walk the Walk’s Men Get Breast Cancer Too campaign and am looking forward to meeting some of the group in person soon!”
Stuart is working with UK breast cancer charity Walk the Walk on their Men Get Breast Cancer Too awareness campaign.