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Tom - Interview 14

Age at interview: 65
Age at diagnosis: 60
Brief Outline: Tom was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004. He had a mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiotherapy before starting Arimidex. He had no side effects from his treatment and returned to work during his treatment.
Background: Tom is retired fork lift driver. He is married. Ethnic background' White British (English).

More about me...

 Tom had initially thought the bruising and swelling in his chest occurred when he had knocked his chest with some timber he was moving at work. Two months after this incident his wife noticed that his nipple was inverting and told him he should see his GP. He did not believe her when she told him men could get breast cancer, and certainly did not believe it would happen to him. 

 
During treatment he cut his hair very short so that his hair loss during chemotherapy was less noticeable. He was able to return to work during this treatment when his employer changed his working hours so that he could attend his appointments. 
 
He was shocked by his diagnosis and told everyone he had breast cancer, sometimes showing his scar as evidence to raise awareness that men are also at risk of breast cancer and should be vigilant for symptoms. His wife had been diagnosed with breast cancer five years before he was. She supported him throughout his treatment and could sympathise with his experiences. He had a very close family and did not feel he needed any more support. His experience was different to his wife's in that he did not meet a breast cancer nurse nor was he offered the opportunity to attend a support group. 
 
However he thought it would have been useful to have met and talked to another man with breast cancer to compare experiences. He received little written information that was specific to men and thinks breast cancer in men should be mentioned more on television to raise awareness.
 
He knows that his breast cancer can return and takes each day as it comes. He's not embarrassed about his scar but won't take his shirt off in public or in sunlight because it is still tender to touch and he knows that his scar may be affected by the sun.
 
 

Tom had banged his nipple. Two months later his wife saw the nipple was inverting and suggested...

Tom had banged his nipple. Two months later his wife saw the nipple was inverting and suggested...

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 The first time I got to know I thought it was a bruise. I walked into some timber, and it did swell, but not knowing I didn’t know at the time men could get cancer, breast cancer. So my wife noticed it and noticed the nipple going inwards and she told me to get in touch with the doctor, and when I got in touch with the doctor, like I said, I hadn’t seen the doctor in 36 years.

 
What was the time difference between you first finding a lump and then, or you bumped it (yeah) and then the inverted nipple? Was that a wee while?
 
Oh, yeah, yeah.
 
Was it?
 
Yeah. It was… I would say a couple of months, a couple of month.
 
And you didn’t say to your wife then that you had that sort of swelling?
 
I showed her the swelling.
 
Right.
 
But I thought it was bruised, so my wife saw it, the nipple going inwards, that’s when she told me to go.
 
Right. And how soon after her telling you to go did you go and see the doctor?
 
The following day.
 
Oh right.
 
And then it was about a couple of weeks, cos it was about a fortnight before Christmas, it was January, and Christmas time I went and that’s when I saw the doctor again, saw the two specialists, saw the surgeon, operated on and out. 
 

Tom wasn’t offered reconstruction but wouldn’t have wanted it because there wasn’t much...

Tom wasn’t offered reconstruction but wouldn’t have wanted it because there wasn’t much...

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Did they offer you reconstruction?

 
No.
 
No?
 
No, no.
 
Or a tattoo for a nipple or…?
 
No. I didn’t know you could get it. Well they never asked, I never asked them, fair enough, if a woman might get a nipple, but my wife aint got nowt, you know what I mean? If a woman, fair enough, she get it done but never... I was never asked about it and I never asked them.
 
It’s not something you’d have gone for if they’d offered it to you?
 
No... It’s different for a woman.
 
Why’s that?
 
Coz she’s got bigguns – mine aren’t big. Mine’s flat, aren’t they? You can see where it delves in there, that’s all so you know what I mean, whereas the other one sticks out a bit here – but it’s only muscle, isn’t it, really when you look at it? No, it doesn’t embarrass me. I’d never shout for it, they never offered, so I don’t think they could help you out – I didn’t know they could offer men owt. What can they offer a man?
 
Well sometimes they can either, it’s like you say, sometimes if the breast on the other side, if it’s uneven, sometimes they might do some liposuction (ah) to flatten it down or else they might offer you the chance to tattoo on a nipple, just so that, you know?
 
Even it up, yeah – well no, I never even was offered that and I ain’t asked about it. Well, it don’t bother me now.
 
There’s some men get a reconstructed breast like a woman, obviously not the same size as a woman, but they can do that.
 
I know what you’re saying, yeah, yeah – build it up a bit, yeah. Coz that does sink in, know what I mean? It’s flat as a pancake now, where that one stands out a bit but it doesn’t bother me – it doesn’t bother me one bit.
 

Tom felt few ill effects from his chemotherapy and radiotherapy and he was able to carry on...

Tom felt few ill effects from his chemotherapy and radiotherapy and he was able to carry on...

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 Can you tell me a wee bit how you felt about the treatment you were given?

 
What, the radiotherapy and all that?
 
Yeah.
 
Oh, it was alright, yeah. Like I say, it affected my wife really bad.
 
Your wife did?
 
Yeah, and I’ve heard a lot of people, it affects them real bad, like, knocks ten bells out of their bottom, you know what I mean?
 
When she got her treatment?
 
Yeah, it’s pure poison they put in your body and it makes them really poorly, but me, never. I can’t understand it, can’t explain it, and I can’t even, and even the doctors can’t understand it but it never affected me, and when I used to go back to work he’d say, “Are you sure?” I’d say, “Yeah, positive.” Cos I feel alright, and I went back to work. When I was having me radiotherapy. It was for three weeks every day, five days, for three weeks.
 
So how did you work in going for your radiotherapy with work?
 
I used to start early and finish… used to start at five in the morning, finish at one, with the agreement with the company, and go for the treatment at two. Or half past two, whatever time it were.
 
So were you just doing work locally, then?
 
Yeah.
 
Were you always doing that or did you do…?
 
Long distance. I was a distance driver.
 
Right, but for those three weeks they gave you sort of shorter routes to do?
 
That’s right, yeah. They were very good.
 

Tom, whose wife had also had breast cancer, describes how he had no idea that men could get...

Tom, whose wife had also had breast cancer, describes how he had no idea that men could get...

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 It’s… five year ago, I went to the doctor last week, got all cleared and the first time I got to know I thought it was a bruise. I walked into some timber, and it did swell, but not knowing I didn’t know at the time men could get cancer, breast cancer. So my wife noticed it and noticed the nipple going inwards and she told me to get in touch with the doctor, and when I got in touch with the doctor, like I said, I hadn’t seen the doctor in 36 years.

 
So they just stuck me straight in, cos it was that quick, you know, I got a bit worr… what’s going on? That’s when it actually said, “You’ve got breast cancer” and I can’t believe it. I said, “I didn’t know men got it”, but… proved me wrong.
 
Yeah. Who was with you when you got your diagnosis?
 
My wife, my wife was with me.
 
And can you remember how you felt at the time?
 
Well, I felt… I wouldn’t say embarrassed but I felt, you know, amazed, really, because I didn’t know men could get it. I only thought women could get it, you know what I mean? I didn’t believe it that men could get it till it happened, yeah.
 
Because when your wife was here earlier she said when you showed her the inverted nipple and she said, you said, “Och, men don’t get breast cancer” and she said, “Yes, they do”, did you still not really believe her?
 
No. No, I never, no. I never believed them one bit till we went to see the doctor, and that’s why I was surprised. I didn’t know how it was done quick from Monday till coming on Friday, it was all done in a week. I was that surprised. 
 

Tom told people about his illness to let men know they could get it. Women asked questions. Men...

Tom told people about his illness to let men know they could get it. Women asked questions. Men...

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 Do you tell people you’ve had breast cancer?

 
Oh, yeah. I’ve showed many men, many men, cos they didn’t believe me.
 
Really?
 
And I showed them it. And when they saw it they are, they said “must be right”. You know what I mean? Showed many, many men it, cos they’re embarrassed about it.
 
They’re embarrassed?
 
They was embarrassed cos they didn’t believe me at the time – “oh no, no, men can’t get it”, you know what men are, but men can get it, yeah.
 
Was there anyone that you didn’t tell?
 
No. I’ve told everybody, told everybody. Even when I was working for a weekend, all the lassies knew. Some of them didn’t believe me. I showed them…
 
So how were your work colleagues, then, with you?
 
They was alright. They didn’t believe me when I went back, “we can’t believe it”. I said, “Well, you want to believe it” and like I say, I showed them. I wasn’t embarrassed about showing them and they was really, really surprised men could get it and I think they was really shocked cos it was like a new scar, you know, red like they was more shocked by that.
 
Right.
 
But a lot of women where I used to work before retiring, there wasn’t, but there was more shocked that men can get it, but no, there’s more people understanding, well, mostly women understanding men can get it, where men can’t believe it, and like I said, yeah, they have to believe it.
 
Did they ask you questions about it?
 
The women?
 
And men.
 
Yeah, they just asked how I knew it was breast cancer. I said, “At the time I didn’t”. Said, “I didn’t know it was”. I said, “When I walked in the timber it was one of those… it was an accident, I walked into it and then it started swelling and swelling” and I said to them, like I told you, “My wife spotted the nipple going inwards and if it weren’t for her spotting that, I don’t think I’d be here”, cos I would have just left it or it would have got really bad, but she spotted it.
 
Did you find the reaction between men and women was different or the same?
 
Yeah. Women was more understanding than men was.
 
Right. How did they show that?
 
By, you know, talking to you and asking questions to you. They asked me questions where men didn’t.
 
Right.
 
Men never asked me questions but women did.
 
 
Did the men sort of shy away from it and change subjects or how, did they just…?
 
Well, they didn’t just ask me the questions, just, you know, there was mostly surprised men get it. Mostly.
 
So do you feel now you go round educating people?
 
Oh I do, yeah, cos I’m not embarrassed showing it there’s nothing to be embarrassed about. It educates them to show them, fair enough, they might realise and then they might not, might just walk away think nothing about it, but men has to be showed they can get it and they have to be groomed. Men can get breast cancer!

Do you tell them what they should be looking out for? Do you…?

I always tell them, “look for lumps”.

Uhuh.

I said “it could be a cyst, it could be gristle, go and check. Just go to your doctor’s and check”. It happened once in the pub with me with a chap about two months ago, and he come over and he said “I don’t want to embarrass you but”, he said, “you had breast cancer.” I said “yeah, yeah.” He said “well, I’ve got a lump here” so I felt the lump… but it weren’t hard. And I said… “are you booked in for owt [anything]” and when he went to the doctor’s and checked it, it was gristle.

Right.

But he did go to the doctor’s.

After you…

And he asked me questions like, you know, is it… “What’s the operation like if I’ve got it, and all this and that”. I’ve told him, “Go to your doctor’s, get it seen to”.
 
 

Tom felt that other patients were watching him when he was called in to his appointment.

Tom felt that other patients were watching him when he was called in to his appointment.

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 I mean, when I used to go to the hospital to check it was all women and it’s embarrassing sat with a load of women and they’re all going what’s he doing, you know what I mean? And it was all women getting checked up, you know what I mean? It’s like when I went to go into the hospital cos I was the only man there and it was full of women to go in to get operated on. And when they called my name out... they wondered why I was coming, yeah. So I don’t think a lot of women have seen men with it. Cos they all think it’s women.

 
Do you think they treated you any different because you were a man?
 
No.
 
No. What about the other women in the ward or in the centre when you go for your check-ups?
 
They just looked.
 
They just looked?
 
Mhm. Just looked Mr [surname] when you get your appointment, the nurses are real nice to you, call you out, but you always can sense that other patients looking at you when you walk in with a nurse – what’s he in for? Know what I mean? 
 

Tom’s wife helped him by talking about her own experiences of breast cancer treatment, finding...

Tom’s wife helped him by talking about her own experiences of breast cancer treatment, finding...

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Can you tell me maybe a bit about how you felt your wife supported you? What did she do that just helped you get through the treatment?

 
My wife? Well, she stood by me all the way and she explained things to me, like what she went through. We had the same treatment but I took a bit longer, mine was six months to the 9 months because when they give you the chemo I think it’s pure poison it kills your cells in your body and if you don’t build back up again like my wife’s never, you have to give some more injections to do it, you know what I mean? That’s why she’s took nine months, so she knew what I was going through and she had that tablet, I took my medicine, I got it done, you know, cos when they give you blood tests, they always do that arm and the doctors said “never have one on that arm, always have it on that arm” and when you see some nurses “no, no, no”, I said “I have to have it on that arm” and then they have to explain to them why I got my glands out and all this... but they always go for this arm. I don’t know why.
 
Because you never got any information, any leaflets at the time, who got you information? Did you look for information yourself or did your wife look for you?
 
My wife.
 
Did she do that.
 
My wife looked for it, yeah.
 
She had? Why didn’t you do it?
 
Cos I didn’t believe I could get breast cancer, and like I say, I thought it was a bruise. What I did, just swelling, and it got big and big over the last couple of months and that’s when my wife saw it, cos I don’t like bothering doctors, you know what I mean, and that’s why I don’t go and see them, that’s why I haven’t seen one in perhaps six year.
 
So even when you had your diagnosis and you were obviously still in shock still then, did she then go out and try and get as much information for you as possible?
 
Oh, she did all sorts, yeah.
 
Did she?
 
Cos she’s experienced it, but she hadn’t experienced with a man with it. I think she was surprised at the time, men can get it, but when she were told and everything she would say all the time I meet with the doctors when I first got diagnosed when they, and they put that needle in and all that, she said “oh, it’s time” and she was explaining, you know what I mean? Cos I said, I was in tears when I was getting it, really…
 
Do you think you could… I mean, you said that… you probably would have seen the GP unless she’d said you need to go and get that seen. Did she… she obviously looked after you through the treatment process as well?
 
All the time, all the time. She was there 24 hours with me, all the time, yeah. All the time. By going into the hospital, coming out the hospital, going to the doctor with me, cos some of them’s foreign and I can’t understand half of what they’re saying, and she listens to them you know what I mean, explains it to me and that, what I have to take and what I ain’t to take. Oh, she’s very good. All the time she was with me, yeah.
 
Yeah. If you had any questions to ask, did you ask the doctors or did you ask her and she found out for you?
 
I asked her and she enquired, you know what I mean? Yeah. She did all that, for me…
 
So she was almost like a sort of gatekeeper or…

Something like that, yeah. Go-between, yeah, yeah. Very good, yes, used to do all that for me, just like I said, she’s experienced it with her sister and her mother and her daughter and me, she’s experienced what the different illnesses are, different cancers, do you know what I mean? So… she’s been with every one of us all the way. Every one.
 
 

Tom stressed that both men and women have breasts, and it was important that men realised they...

Tom stressed that both men and women have breasts, and it was important that men realised they...

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When we first started doing this study as I was saying to you earlier, we had some men came back to us because we used the term ‘male breast cancer’ and I just wondered, do you have any opinions of that statement, that term, male breast cancer?

 
No, no problem whatsoever. You shouldn’t be ashamed of it. We’ve all got breasts but women’s are bigger than ours, but they have to look after their selves. They can’t… they have to be told they can get it cos we… you can get it. You don’t have to have boobs out even men, you can get it.
 
Do you think that term ‘male breast cancer’ makes it… people more aware than men can get breast cancer by using that term?
 
Oh yeah, yeah.
 
I think the concerns that they were raising was that we don’t call it female breast cancer and when we call it male breast cancer we’re making it sound different to what women get and they didn’t like that?
 
Yeah. Yeah. Well, they have to realise they can get it. It don’t matter what, breast cancer is breast cancer, simple as that. Male or female, it’s breast cancer. Like I’ve just explained, men have got a… like a woman, a woman’s well built, and men isn’t but they’re still classed as breasts. We’ve both got the same but their’s is bigger and they have to realise that. You … breast cancer, you can’t say “oh, I’m gay”, cos you aren’t. We’ve all got the same things. 
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