Forty-nine-year old David is a retired vet. He was diagnosed with breast cancer in December 2015. In May 2017, David discovered the cancer had spread to his lungs.
“Just under four years ago, I found a tiny lump smaller than a pea under my right nipple after I got crushed and bruised by one of my patients, a dairy cow. So began a rollercoaster year. First surgery, a mastectomy plus the lymph nodes removed from my armpit This was followed by 5 months of chemotherapy, a month of radiotherapy and finally starting 10 years of hormone therapy.
On the plus side, during chemo I didn’t have to shave for months – brilliant! And thanks to a Cold Cap I got to keep the hair on my head which meant I didn’t look quite so ill when collecting my children (who were 15, 12 and 8) from school; I had brain freeze and ice in my hair each time it came off but for me, it was definitely worth it.
Then just as I was beginning to get my life back on an even keel my brother died following an aeroplane accident, and brought our world tumbling down.
A few months later, when I thought I had no fight left in me, the breast cancer returned, this time in my lungs. From who knows where, I found the resilience to pick myself up and face whatever was thrown at me – so back to square one. I had more surgery to remove parts of my lung and strip out lots of associated lymph nodes. This second operation made the first one look like a walk in the park. I woke up in intensive care with every sort of gadget and tube attached to all parts of my anatomy. My wife Beth will never forget that day when in front of her, and with no warning, I crashed and went very blue. I vaguely remember watching the managed ‘panic’ of the doctors and nurses all around me trying to keep me alive. I shall always remember two other things: hallucinating on morphine, and being visited by an Australian physio, who on seeing the new scar on my back exclaimed, “looks like you have been bitten by a shark David, albeit a very tidy one!”
Psychologically I have found the scar on my back easier to deal with than my mastectomy scar. At first, if I was in the pool or on a beach I would sling a towel over my shoulder to fall down my chest covering the scar. Just because of the nature of male swimwear, we can feel very exposed with a bare chest when swimming. It doesn’t bother me so much now, it just took me a while to adjust.
As I have secondary breast cancer and cannot be cured, I will remain on lifelong treatment. My new drugs are doing great things keeping the cancer quiet (for now). On the flip side there are side-effects of everything I have been through and continue to go through – poor immunity, brain fog, chronic fatigue, painful feet, hands, and ribs, mouth ulcers, inflamed eyes, an arm that will always need protecting from even small cuts and scratches, and so on which means I was medically retired at 47 years old. Now even my hairy chest is disappearing!
At present, I am monitored on a monthly basis by a wonderful team at the Royal Marsden Hospital. I feel really secure in the knowledge that they will help me every step along the way.
I feel passionate about raising awareness of breast cancer in men and secondary breast cancer. Recently scruffy old me donned some “glitzy” clothes and took part in a charity fashion show in London along with 31 other models, all with a diagnosis of breast cancer. It was great fun and we helped raise a huge amount of money and awareness. It was very refreshing to spend time with people who just “get” what you’ve been through…no explanations needed.
My message would be Check Your Boobs, that includes all you men too! It’s so simple to do. And of course, enjoy yourself each and every day.”