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Tom H - Interview 13

Age at interview: 71
Age at diagnosis: 70
Brief Outline: Diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008 and had surgery and radiotherapy before starting tamoxifen. Since his operation he has some swelling in his arm and cannot dig in his allotment the way he used to.
Background: Tom H is retired, he worked in the petrochemicals industry. He is widowed and has 2 adult children. Ethnic background' White British (English).

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 Tom H had knocked his breast whilst moving heavy furniture and did not think it unusual that his breast was extremely painful thereafter. It was his daughter who noticed his breast looked unusual and his nipple had inverted one day while he was digging his allotment topless on a sunny day. She was shocked by what she saw and immediately advised him to see his GP about it. She searched the Internet for potential explanations and found out that breast cancer was a possibility. She then phoned him every day until he made an appointment to see his doctor. He did so within a week to keep her happy.

 
He had no problems during his treatment apart from some minor skin changes during radiotherapy. He had to use a moisturising cream on the affected area twice daily to soothe the burning and redness.
 
Before Tom H was diagnosed with breast cancer, his wife was diagnosed with lung cancer. She was still undergoing chemotherapy after he had finished his treatment. His primary concern was for his wife and he did all that he could to help her. Compared to his wife he felt he got a lot of information about his cancer, including a Breast Cancer Care folder for men with breast cancer. 
 
For a while at his allotment he was reluctant to take his shirt off as he did not want to offend or embarrass anyone with his scar. He is not worried about being topless now. He was offered reconstruction but declined as he felt that he did not need it as an older man. He told his family about his diagnosis immediately and he has not kept it a secret in his village. He found some men were reluctant to talk about his illness because they seemed to find breast cancer in a man an embarrassing topic. Tom H had high praise for the local cancer centre.
 
 

Tom’s daughter phoned her father the day after she noticed something wrong with his breast to...

Tom’s daughter phoned her father the day after she noticed something wrong with his breast to...

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 Well it was my daughter that noticed it first. I had banged myself a few times, you know, moving furniture and that but I thought nothing of it because you bang your leg at my age, it takes a long while for it to go away, as it were, and she noticed it. I was on the allotment. Luckily for me I was stripped to the waist. It was a beautiful day. If it had been a very cold day, I would’ve been sat in the greenhouse and she wouldn’t have seen it.

 
So, when your daughter said to you “what’s wrong with your breast?” Did you… how soon after that was it, that you made your appointment for your GP?
 
Well, it’s like I say, we call her the Rotweiler. That was on the Sunday when she noticed it and she started ringing up on the Monday. “Have you been to the doctors?” So eventually I gave in and I went on the Thursday, so that was the following Thursday when I went and he gave me the usual course of antibiotics and that and then when I went back as instructed, I had to keep the daughter off my neck. I was asked if I’d have a second opinion. And as I say, I thought because there was about eleven doctors there, he’d just go and knock on another door and say, “when you’ve got a minute can you come in here and have a look at this”, and it wasn’t. It was… “Oh, we’ll write to you in a couple of days” and I say, I got the first appointment on the 20 October. Well it’s not a long time.
 
So, was that soon after…? How long was that from seeing your doctor, then?
 
… It was probably… the course of tablets I think would last about ten days, so that would take me to the end of September, but, well… at least the end of September because it was about 25th when I went to see her Yeah, it would be about a fortnight I think, something like that.
 
Right, so it wasn’t long?
 
It… no I was absolutely amazed at the speed with which things were done. 
 

Tom recalled how, before going into theatre for his mastectomy, he and the hospital staff had...

Tom recalled how, before going into theatre for his mastectomy, he and the hospital staff had...

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 I could remember the times going in, ten past one. I can remember them laughing about my socks because the socks apparently go by your calf measurement and I finished up with socks about four inches too long because I’ve got really sturdy calves… short, fat and hairy. I could… waggling about like that when I was on the [unclear] anaesthetist, “Look at that”. I says, “when you stick the needle in, don’t stick it in the spare end of my sock like, I want it in me, not that”. Of course, by then I was half way under because he’d…

 
Yeah he’d started, yeah.
 
... [overtalk] you still making them laugh about your socks, the way you were waggling about and you were half under. I say, well, you know, no good being miserable, is there? 
 

Tom was seldom bare-chested in public, but he did worry that he might embarrass the younger women...

Tom was seldom bare-chested in public, but he did worry that he might embarrass the younger women...

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So, you were offered reconstruction?

 
Yes, they said they could tattoo them if I wanted in that area. I said, “Well I ain’t really bothered”. I said, the only time I’m stripped to the waist is usually I sit in here at nights with nothing on because I put the cream on and all that, and I’d rather it soak into me than into me clothing, and of course, weather like this, down on the allotment, I strip to the waist. A little bit, just because there’s three or four young… well, I say young lassies, I mean you know, forty-odd downwards, and it curtails it a bit because I don’t want to embarrass them or myself for that matter.
 
What now?
 
Well, I mean, they’re young lassies compared to me, I mean you know, probably between thirty and forty.
 

Tom would probably have gone to a support group if it had been offered but he didn't think he...

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Tom would probably have gone to a support group if it had been offered but he didn't think he...

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 But they didn’t offer you the chance to talk to, in a support group with like people who have had breast cancer?

 
No because I think I was a one-off.
 
Yeah. So they just didn’t offer it?
 
No. Well, I wouldn’t have expected them to really. Because they’re run off their feet the poor fellows. I mean you know there’s six in our room. I don’t know how many nurses there are on, but on the night-shift there’s usually only one, that did the full ward. Not just our six, but like I think I’d worked it out there was one or two side wards with one and two in, there was thirty four beds on ward [ward letter].
 
Would you have liked to have gone to a support group?
 
I don’t know. I probably would have gone if somebody said go, I would have gone. But, I think if it had been left to me, no I don’t think I would have bothered. But as I say I’m an introvert. The one reason I’d accepted that I would do this was because I’d actually thought of asking the hospital, when I went, if my experiences would be any good to anybody else, because as I say it’s a small return, for what they’ve done for me.
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