Richard relates going through breast cancer to feelings during the pandemic

I think the pandemic has given many people a real sense of mortality. For me, surviving cancer and a brush with my own mortality meant I had a bit of re-evaluation.

Around 370 men a year in the UK are diagnosed with breast cancer and at the end of 2015, I became one of them. I discovered a lump just below my left nipple and had a mastectomy in January 2016. I didn’t need chemotherapy or radiotherapy and have been given a clean bill of health, but I’m still being monitored.

It was obviously a very difficult period for me and my family, but I was one of the lucky ones – I came through it. The whole experience has helped me cope in a number of ways during the Coronavirus pandemic, which is dominating our daily lives so much at the moment.

When I was diagnosed, I immediately found myself in a situation over which I had no control. As a man diagnosed with breast cancer, that whole period in my life was even more of an unknown quantity. Awareness has improved so much recently, but even just a few years ago, there were many people who simply didn’t know that men could get breast cancer too.

I had to put a lot of trust into the hands of my medical team. I wasn’t an expert and it was up to them to plan out my treatment and give me the best advice. I simply couldn’t control the situation myself and was in their hands. In a way, this made me relatively relaxed about what was happening to me – and I feel the same now during this pandemic. We need to follow the advice of the experts who are telling us what to do and what not to do. We have to be patient and there’s nothing we can do about the situation – other than listen to that advice.

My diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer also meant that I was unable to plan ahead as much as I wanted – I very much had to live for the moment and it gave me a real sense of what was actually important. That’s the same right now – much as we would like to, none of us can really make any plans, which I know is frustrating, but it is what it is. For the short term at least, it’s difficult for us to find anything to look forward to, which feels strange, but because of my experience with cancer, I’m confident I can deal with that.

I think the pandemic has also given many people a real sense of mortality. For me, surviving cancer and a brush with my own mortality meant I had a bit of re-evaluation. I am a reasonably robust person and was relaxed about my breast cancer diagnosis. These problems are a challenge, but you just have to get on and make the most of the situation and work your way through it.

If in the process, you can help others to make it through as well so much the better.  So look at people on your contacts list, is there anyone who may be vulnerable? Is there anyone who has young children and may be finding it difficult to educate or entertain them? Are there old friends you should have maintained contact with? Make a phone call or send a message, help them through too. But most importantly look after your own mental health. Find a new interest or learning experience to keep your mind active and the current problems in perspective.

For me, a retired accountant working as a gardener, COVID-19 has meant a reduction in the amount of work that I am doing. I am not chasing work, some of my customers can no longer afford to pay a gardener and some are self-isolating. It is what it is, but the priority is my family. One of the first things I did when I thought there was going to be pressure on the supply chains was to decide to grow more food. We have a few fruit trees and bushes but I turned a couple of flowerbeds and some lawn over to vegetables. It keeps me occupied and I am also using the opportunity to teach my six year old granddaughter, who’s living with us, more about gardening.

There are 5 of us at home at the moment, including our granddaughter, who can obviously no longer go to school, a right my generation has probably taken for granted. Whilst she has some understanding of the virus and the dangers it is hard for her to adapt to not being able to see her friends and her routine is totally upside-down. Helping to keep her amused and provide her with some kind of education whilst the schools are closed is taking up a major part of the day. Finding the balance between physical activity, schoolwork and play activity is key in our minds for her mental health.

When all this over, I will be back raising even more awareness for Walk the Walk that Men Get Breast Cancer Too! I’ve loved being part of their awareness campaign for the last couple of years and I think the message is really getting through.

I’ll also continue taking part in The MoonWalks – in my decorated bra of course! Looking forward to seeing you on the start line and in the meantime, stay safe.



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