Tony Herbert, 68, was shocked to find out he had breast cancer in 2011.
I was on a safari holiday in Namibia in August 2010 when I felt some soreness in my left nipple. 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 in October 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.
Getting things checked
In January 2011, my wife gave me a playful poke in the chest and felt the lump. By this time the lump had got a lot bigger and my nipple was turning inwards. My wife insisted I see my GP – up until now she didn’t know I had a problem.
Why didn’t I go to the doctor before?
I knew men could get breast cancer, but the numbers were small and 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.
So 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.
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’m now taking the hormone therapy tamoxifen for 10 years.
A man with a ‘woman’s disease’
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.
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 wasn’t a problem (I didn’t have much anyway), and not having to shave so much was a bonus. I’ve come to understand that this can be difficult for women to deal with, and that not all men take my view of treatment.
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 is still in contact with women who were treated at the same time.
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 Care 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.
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.
Getting back to fitness
I am very grateful for all the support I had from my wife, my children and our friends. The treatment I had at Glenfield and the Royal Infirmary was second to none.
After all my treatment, I was determined to get back to the same level of fitness as before. While I was having chemotherapy, I was selected to be a Games Maker at the 2012 Olympics. So I had a target to be ready for this, and it was a fantastic experience.
Within a year I was back playing tennis, badminton and golf to almost the same level as before. I have also become involved with Breast Cancer Care and have trained as a Someone like Me volunteer.
I’m now far more aware of the ongoing effects of breast cancer and the worry about developing secondary breast cancer.
I think that men with breast cancer generally have an easier time than women. But the biggest problem is getting them to be aware when they have a problem and then seeing their GP.
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