Personal cancer story
In April 2013, I was in the shower when I felt two small, hard lumps under my left nipple. It was night time, so I searched Google and when I saw the words ‘male breast cancer’ show up, I starting thinking the worst.
My family and I went away for three weeks and when we came back, I made an appointment with my GP. The doctor told me that it was probably nothing, but sent me off for an ultrasound to be safe. When my results came back, I was referred for a biopsy.
My wife and I went to the doctor a couple of days later for the results and that's when we found out I had breast cancer. I was told that my cancer wasn't very aggressive and because it was detected early, there was a high chance it could be successfully treated. It was the first case of male breast cancer my doctor had come across.
I met with the surgeon the following day and she advised that I would need a mastectomy and sentinel node biopsy. I was the fourth male breast cancer patient she had looked after on the Central Coast of NSW. My family had planned a holiday to Fiji so we held off surgery until I got back. As you can imagine, I spent most of my holiday thinking about cancer, hardly able to relax at all!
We flew back on a Friday and I had my operation the following Monday. When I woke up, the surgeon came in to tell me that the surgery had been very successful, with a 9 mm clearance. I was in hospital for just two nights.
While in hospital, a breast care nurse came to see me and she gave me a pink bag for my drain and a pillow. Apparently, they don't make bags for male breast cancer patients. In the end, my wife made me a black bag to carry around and the drain was taken out a week later.
My sister, as well as the doctors, suggested that I undergo genetic testing, as my mother is suspected to have died from ovarian cancer, to determine whether there was a high cancer risk for the women in my family. Unfortunately, these tests came back inconclusive.
People were often surprised when I told them I had breast cancer."
After surgery, I completed four treatments of EC (epirubicin and cyclophosphamide) chemotherapy and 12 treatments of paclitaxel (taxol) chemotherapy. I now take tamoxifen daily and will do so for the next 10 years.
While undergoing this treatment, I had bad nausea and the first week was always the worst. During this time, I found it difficult to manage work two days a week, so decided to have three months off. While I've always been health conscious and exercised, I actually put weight on during chemotherapy, which I'm now slowly managing to lose.
I feel very fortunate to be surrounded by lots of support from family and friends. My older children, as well as my in-laws, were very helpful picking up the little kids, cooking meals and helping whenever they could.
Breast cancer is uncommon in men (in 2010, only 127 men were diagnosed with breast cancer in Australia) and there is a common misbelief that only women can get it. People were often surprised when I told them I had breast cancer. It was also quite difficult to find information on breast cancer in men. I was actually given a book by the surgeon called ‘Early breast cancer in women’ because she didn't have anything specifically made for men. When I had a mammogram, the nurse assisting me was more embarrassed than I was, having never done it on a man before.
I've always been very open about my experiences and put my story up on my Facebook page to keep my friends and family informed. As a retired police officer, I found talking about my cancer experience a lot easier than the post-traumatic stress disorder I was diagnosed with in 2005.
At the moment I'm in high spirits. My fitness is still a little low and sometimes I get light headed, but I'm keeping positive and enjoying spending time with my family. I've got a six-inch scar from my operation and my chest is sore every now and then as I've had a bit of lymphoedema.
As my genetic testing was inconclusive, I may consider having a mastectomy on my other breast, but that's something I'll continue to discuss with my health team.
I believe that early detection is very important and men and women alike need to be aware of their body and keep an eye out for changes. I believe that men in particular tend to think they are unstoppable and that nothing will happen to them, but I want to encourage men to live a healthy lifestyle and speak to their doctor if they notice any changes to their body.
Read more stories about people's personal experiences with cancer