I just don’t think that a lot of men really know that it’s not just women who can get breast cancer, men can get it too.”
In honour of Men’s Breast Cancer Awareness Day and Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we would like to retell you the story of David – an inspiring man from Warwick, Queensland, who’s experienced breast cancer.
“I just sat there in disbelief for a couple of minutes – you just never expect you’d get something like that, especially breast cancer.”
David was just 49 years old when he was diagnosed with breast cancer in December 2016. He first noticed a lump in September that year, but thought it must have just been a bump from work. Like so many men, he thought it was nothing to worry about. So when the doctor gave him the diagnosis, he was in complete shock.
“She’s been my rock the whole way through”
“Telling Mum was the hardest thing I have ever had to do, she had gone through her own battle with breast cancer 27 years ago, so when I walked in the door and saw her – I just started crying. She hugged me and told me to just take everything one step at a time, worry about today and not tomorrow – and that’s what I did. She has been my rock the whole way through.”
Only a week after receiving his own diagnosis, David got a call from his sister Kylie – she had just been diagnosed with breast cancer as well. David remembers his heart dropping at the news; it was a cruel twist of fate.
“Kylie’s diagnosis just made me even more determined to beat it. I knew I needed to be strong for her and I didn’t want her to get down about her own treatment. But I also had to be strong for mum – I can’t begin to imagine how hard it must be to have one kid go through breast cancer, let alone two.”
As a man diagnosed with breast cancer, David often found himself in peculiar situations with friends & family who didn’t understand that men could be diagnosed with the disease.
“I remember walking past an old mate on the street one day in Warwick and he asked me what I had been up to. I told him I had breast cancer and he didn’t believe me! He took a little bit of convincing. I just don’t think that a lot of men really know that it’s not just women who can get breast cancer, men can get it too.”
David also recalled a particularly funny incident while he was in the waiting room of Toowoomba Hospital.
“She asked me if I had been fitted for my special bra yet…”
“I remember sitting in the hospital waiting to go in for my operation and the nurse came up to me and was obviously so busy she hadn’t really looked at me yet. She asked me if I had been fitted for my special bra yet – then looked at me and went bright red! I said ‘not yet, but I hope to soon!’ I thought it was hilarious and she had a good laugh too. Things like that happen but you can’t help but see the funny side of it.”
With the support of his family, the incredibly close-knit community of Warwick, and his McGrath Breast Care Nurse, David had a mastectomy and started treatment for his breast cancer. David went through 18 weeks of chemotherapy and 5 weeks of radiation therapy, with the radiation therapy taking its toll on his already fragile system.
“It was my lowest point of it all to be honest. I ended up in hospital for 3 days with a severe infection after my last week of chemo, I was that crook. I also had all sorts of burns on my chest from the radiation – it wasn’t very pretty!”
David had an incredible network of support around him to help him through his experience, especially his McGrath Breast Care Nurse who was always there to educate and empower him to confidently make decisions regarding his treatment.
“It would have been so hard without her”
“She (Ashlee Stirling, McGrath Breast Care Nurse) has been really, really good. Any time I had a question about the treatment or whatever really – she was always there to help. It would have been so hard without her.’’
Almost 3 years after he was first diagnosed with breast cancer, David has completed his treatment and is in a phase of monitoring and rehabilitation. He still has to attend regular check-ups with various health professionals, but he’s now embracing the moment and making the most of everyday – and is very close to attaining his certificate III in Individual Support (Disability)!
“I’ve just been enjoying life to the fullest and appreciating my health. I’ve learned that you never know when that can be taken away from you. I’m just really thankful to be alive, going through cancer you see a lot of unfortunate people going through things a lot worse, it really makes you appreciate the little things. If you can get up in the morning – you’re doing well, so enjoy it!”
David’s story is just one of many and through his experience we’re encouraging everyone to have a conversation and connect with the men and boys in all our lives – let them know there is always someone there to listen.
“I want to help people with cancer, particularly men with cancer. I don’t think there’s enough support out there for men, it just seems us blokes don’t want to get together and talk. Men think that if they share their feelings they’re soft, I think it just shows how strong you truly are if you’re able to do that! From my own experience it was just great to be around other people going through a similar thing to me – you could talk to them and they’d understand. It made such a difference.”
McGrath Breast Care Nurses provide free support to patients and their families experiencing breast cancer. With more than 19,000 women and men estimated to be diagnosed with breast cancer every year in Australia, the need for McGrath Breast Care Nurses continues to grow.