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RG - Interview 17

Age at interview: 64
Age at diagnosis: 62
Brief Outline: RG was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007. Treatment included mastectomy, chemotherapy and Arimidex. Soon after surgery he developed a seroma in his wound that required draining in hospital.
Background: RG is a retired teacher. He is married and has 3 adult children. Ethnic background' White British (English).

More about me...

 RG had initially thought that his nipple had inverted after recent visits to the gym. After a few weeks he showed it to his wife who was unsure what could be causing it and advised him to see his GP. He found the mammogram and biopsy a frightening and painful experience. Despite having knowledge that men could get breast cancer, he never thought it would happen to him and his diagnosis came as a complete shock. 

 
He told his immediate family and some close friends, but he did not feel it was anyone else’s business and he withdrew from social events until he had completed his course of chemotherapy and signs of his treatment had disappeared. He concealed his treatment by cutting his hair very short and wearing hats, and took the car instead of walking. 
 
His wife was with him when he got his diagnosis and throughout his treatment. He was given a lot of general breast cancer literature but nothing specific for men. He was not interested in finding out about it, but his wife looked on the internet and read the information. She would tell him what he needed to know. His wife is often addressed as the patient at the hospital and he feels embarrassed sitting amongst the other women. He feels everything is directed towards women and the pink waiting room increases his anxiety when his name is called out at clinic. 
 
After treatment he wanted to return to his life and close the door on this part of his life. He feels the pink breast cancer campaigns exclude men and he feels that he would not have been so self conscious if men were included more in breast cancer awareness literature. He feels that because so many women are diagnosed they can readily support each other, whereas there are so few men that they cannot easily support each other. He wants to contribute to raising awareness of breast cancer in men. 
 
 

RG describes feeling ‘a bit numb’. He didn’t feel emotionally prepared for the news even though...

RG describes feeling ‘a bit numb’. He didn’t feel emotionally prepared for the news even though...

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 Can you remember how you reacted to the news?

 
I think I was a bit numb really. You know you sort of- you are prepared, you know you’re prepared intellectually, your mind is sort of prepared, but your feelings aren’t. And [laughing] and you go crikey, “Is this the end of the road?” you know.
 
Is that- was that your initial thought then, this is it?
 
No. No I don’t think it was. No I think my initial, my initial reaction was… well… the wind was taken out my sails, I just, you know you’re told something like that and, it’s almost as though the world stops you know you think crikey, you know. Yeah. I remember, this is nothing to do with that, but I remember my brother, I was with him when he’d been told that he’d got pancreatic cancer. That was, yeah. So it’s not easy. You get through it. 
 

RG found chemotherapy hard. He was surprised he was bothered when he lost his ‘good head of hair’...

RG found chemotherapy hard. He was surprised he was bothered when he lost his ‘good head of hair’...

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 I found the, chemotherapy very hard, I must admit. It was in a communal room, I’d have preferred it to have been in a separate cubicle. And, I- just found it very hard. Very claustrophobic really, you get these things shoved into you, and yeah and- I was okay to start with, I think I was okay on the first one, I didn’t really have, from, from my memory I didn’t really have very many after-effects, of that one. And possibly not much from the second one but it builds up, the effect builds up doesn’t it? And, then the later ones, for a week afterwards, I was you know, out of it, really, not very well and…certainly later on, in fact I was sick during the actual procedure, a couple of times. Yeah, whether it was just a mixture of anxiety and claustrophobia and the heat and all the rest of it, and the process you know. So, you know as I say, and I lost my hair as well of course. Which- I didn’t think that would bother me but it did. Cause I’ve always had a- you know, I’ve always had a good head of hair really. And I thought it would- well I coped with it but, I didn’t really like to go around too much you know. Felt a bit sort of, self-conscious, you know. I must admit I was heartily relieved when the chemotherapy was completed. And it took me, well I think it took me several months, gradually, to build up until- you know to feel more like my old self, you know. My hair gradually came back.

 

RG was told he would need a mastectomy and chemotherapy. He felt that his decision to accept this...

RG was told he would need a mastectomy and chemotherapy. He felt that his decision to accept this...

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 So what happened once they’d given you the diagnosis, did they talk through treatment options then with you?

 
Yes. Yeah, I mean well. There weren’t many options really. I mean he just said, “Look, it needs to come off.” So I said, “Right, get going, get on with it”.
 
So you were quite happy with that?
 
That’s the wrong word to use [laughs]. But whatever the word is, I was up for it, because I felt that that was my alternative and that was what I’d have to do.
 
Okay.
 
It wasn’t a question of you know having an alternative really. Well I had an alternative, don’t do anything about it, but I mean what sort of alternative is that?
 
So although you didn’t have a choice in your treatment, you were quite prepared and happy to go along with what he was suggesting, which was the mastectomy?
 
Well yes. I mean, this is one of the problems, isn’t it, when you’re in that sort of situation. You’re, you put yourself into other people’s hands, who you hope, hope and pray, know what they’re talking about you know. Which you know it’s quite a daunting thing really isn’t it? You know. And you hear all sorts of funny things as well but, you know incompetence and you just wonder what you- but at the end of the day you’ve got a decision to make and really, well it’s hardly a decision at all, you’ve just got to go down that road.
 
Did they give you any choice in further treatment after the surgery, were you given any options, there? Like whether to have radiotherapy or chemo or-?
 
No.
 
That was just all set out as well.
 
Yeah. They advised that I had the chemotherapy.
 

RG felt a bit exposed and like a ‘sore thumb’ when he was in the chemotherapy suite. Several...

RG felt a bit exposed and like a ‘sore thumb’ when he was in the chemotherapy suite. Several...

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 I mean we’ve been several times to, you know to the hospital and on several occasions, my wife’s been addressed as being the patient. You know, by doctors as well. And of course it’s very female orientated, when you go into the, when you go into the, you know the waiting areas and such like, it’s all in pink. And you feel, you know when you, when your name’s called out, crikey, you know it’s something different, you know. So it’s a little bit, feel a bit self-conscious about that I must admit. I don’t know whether other men do but-. But I think I suppose it’s the nature of the beast, you know that more women unfortunately get breast cancer. But then men do as well, so [laughs].

 
Well it was a large room, and it might have been, I don’t know, eight or nine bays. Or areas, within that room, where all everybody… all the patients were getting their chemotherapy and such like. And there were curtains round each little bay, but they were open while you were receiving your treatment. They only closed them when I was, if I was sick, if I had been, they whipped them shut then. And, yeah I just- sort of feel that I think I would have preferred, I don’t know how possible that would be, to have been in my own little room while that was done you know.
 
Why did you feel like that?
 
Why did I feel like that? Possibly I just felt a bit exposed.
 
Were you sitting with mainly women?
 
Yeah.
 
Did you feel quite uncomfortable being a man in that environment?
 
Yeah, again you see that was- yes. It was, a very female environment, and yeah you do feel a little bit, like a sore thumb [laughs].
 

RG did not take up the offer of support from breast care nurses because he wanted “minimum fuss”...

RG did not take up the offer of support from breast care nurses because he wanted “minimum fuss”...

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So after you had that initial appointment with the consultant, did the breast care nurse see you at all?

 
I was given, I don’t know whether I did right in this actually. But I was given various telephone numbers of you know, of breast care nurses and such like, you know that I could get in touch with, pre-surgery and after surgery and all the rest- and during chemo as well. But I didn’t take any of them- cause I- I think really, top and bottom of it is you know I just wanted to get through it as- with the minimum of fuss and get back to normal if I could, without you know. I mean I’m sure that if I’d gone to see them they would have been very kind and very supportive and, possibly actually would have helped you know in certain- just to explain things really. But as I say, I just felt that I wanted to, just get back to normal, you know just do what I’d normally do.
 

RG turned down the offer to meet another man with breast cancer because he thought it wouldn’t...

RG turned down the offer to meet another man with breast cancer because he thought it wouldn’t...

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Have you ever met another man who’s had breast cancer?

 
I was given the choice, and I decided not to. You know initially, but, one of the nurses said “oh I can put you in touch with this chap”. Anyway I decided not to.
 
Why?
 
I wasn’t sure that it would help. You know I think if you’re fairly self-reliant, then you sort of feel, it’s not really going to change the situation.
 
So even now you wouldn’t want to meet another man?
 
I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t not want to. But I wouldn’t deliberately go out of my way to, you know.
 

RG thinks that he looks ‘lop-sided’ and wouldn’t want to bare his chest at the gym or swimming...

RG thinks that he looks ‘lop-sided’ and wouldn’t want to bare his chest at the gym or swimming...

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 I’m very aware of this side. And I don’t feel, you know I used to go the gym, but I- well I’d stopped going to the gym before all this happened, but you know, I wouldn’t want to go back to the gym cause I’d feel- you know say you’re going for a swim, I wouldn’t feel that I could strip off, and you know sort of just be natural about it. So, you know, you know that’s- you see I think that, from what I understand, women are possibly supported better than men, in this whole, in this whole thing.

 
Can you talk a wee bit more about how you feel about your mastectomy scar? You said it stopped you going to the gym and things. Is there any other aspect of your life, I mean can you look at it okay in the mirror, does it-?
 
That doesn’t- yeah, when you look down and you’re lopsided you know. Well I mean I think I just feel self-conscious about it really I suppose, you know, going for a swim or something like that. That’s why I wouldn’t go, you know. Tend to go walking and such like now. 
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