As EastEnders airs a male breast cancer storyline… Neil shares his own story

Going through my treatment was very difficult mentally. A lot of the time, my family just didn’t know what to say.

“I first realised something was wrong when I discovered what felt like some gristle under the skin of my right breast – the lump wasn’t much bigger than a pea. I kept an eye on it and it didn’t get any bigger, but I had a niggling feeling that I should get it checked out.

I was working as a Business Manager at the United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust and one day not long afterwards, I bumped into a surgeon I knew on the hospital corridor. I mentioned my lump and he told me I should go and see one of the hospital’s breast surgeons.

It was a couple of months later that I eventually did this – in hindsight obviously, I should have gone sooner. As it was, I guess I was very lucky that I was working in a hospital – it made getting myself checked out so much easier.

I had a number of tests and was diagnosed with breast cancer. At the time, I don’t think I was really aware that men could get breast cancer. In some ways, I guess I must have realised it was possible, but I’d never given it much further thought to be honest. When I was told about my own diagnosis, my immediate reaction was to just get on and deal with it – it was only later that I really had the chance to reflect on how serious the situation was.

My treatment was a mastectomy, followed by chemotherapy and radiotherapy. During my surgery, I also had a number of lymph nodes removed –  cancer was detected in a few of them, but it hadn’t spread any further, which was a huge relief.

Going through my treatment was very difficult mentally. I did fall out quite a bit with my wife Pam and it was a very strange time in our relationship. You could almost guarantee that we would have an argument the night before I had a chemotherapy session! A lot of the time, my family just didn’t know what to say. I admit that I did try to protect my family and confided more in a few work colleagues who were very supportive.  My wife said I was difficult to understand during this period of time and felt I was spending too much time at work.

Unbelievably, 7 years later, my wife was also diagnosed with breast cancer. When she was ill – based on my own experience – I left her to make her own decisions as to how she was going to deal with everything. She admitted that she now totally understood what I’d been through! It’s always harder for the person watching on, when someone close to them isn’t well – it often feels that whatever you say or do isn’t right!

My cancer journey didn’t end there – I’ve also been diagnosed since with prostate cancer and bowel cancer, but have recovered well from both, although I still have regular tests. All my cancers were totally separate. My wife, daughter and myself all had genetic testing for the BRCA gene – if you’re a carrier, it means that you have a greater chance of developing breast cancer, but thankfully we all came back negative. My son hasn’t been tested.

Up until very recently, I’d never even talked to another man diagnosed with breast cancer, but I finally did as part of a new initiative called the “Virtual Meet-up” for men with a history of breast cancer diagnosis. It was so helpful speaking to people just like me – it felt like the other men totally understood! We were just a group of pretty normal blokes, with something rather unusual to unite us.

My message to other men is that early diagnosis is so important. Men can get breast cancer and if you find something unusual, get it checked out as soon as possible”. - Neil

Spread the word – find out more about our Men Get Breast Cancer Too campaign and download our poster here.



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