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Derek - Interview 109

Age at interview: 65
Age at diagnosis: 57
Brief Outline: Derek was eventually diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005 after his GP had been slow to refer him for a mammogram. He had a mastectomy, and chemotherapy, radiotherapy and tamoxifen.
Background: Derek is a retired driver for the blood transfusion service. He is married and has 2 adult children. Ethnic Background: White British (English).

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Derek’s wife had first noticed a change to his nipple and they asked a doctor at the hospital about it when they were there for an unrelated issue. He advised him to see his GP. However his own GP dismissed his concerns and he had to persist to get a referral to see a specialist. When he received his diagnosis he felt totally unprepared and shocked at the news. 
 
He was very seriously ill whilst having chemotherapy when he delayed seeking help when his temperature began rising due to an infection. He was soon hospitalised and required intravenous antibiotics to recover. He felt as that he had had a near death experience. He managed to get through the rest of his treatment (including tamoxifen) without any further side effects. 
 
After surgery he required physiotherapy for the lymphodema in his arm and to get the flexibility back to ensure he could lie in position for his radiotherapy. He still has to do the exercises to control the lymphodema. He felt uncomfortable during his time on the breast cancer ward in hospital despite being in a side room. He saw the women were given handbags to carry their drains around and he felt upset that he had to put his in a carrier bag. His wife brought him in a bumbag which worked really well and he suggested to the ward that they should get some for men. He is still regularly asked at the pharmacy whether his prescription is for him when he collects his tamoxifen prescription. 
 
He finds it difficult to listen to information about breast cancer and does not want to know too much. His wife knows a lot more and tells him what he needs to know. His wife has been a huge support to him and had been with him throughout his treatment. He struggled to come to terms with his diagnosis and at times has been frustrated and angry with people. He has felt unable to control his temper sometimes and is upset and embarrassed about the way he has spoken sometimes. He has had some counselling but he did not find it helpful. He felt that the support and love he received from his family was all that he needed. 
 
Although it is eight years since his diagnosis, he still feels breast cancer is never far from his mind and he finds himself checking his body for lumps whilst watching television. He has been open about his diagnosis and has since talked and supported neighbours – both men and women – who were diagnosed with breast cancer. He sees this as ‘payback’ for the support he has received. He wants to help raise awareness that men can get breast cancer and gets frustrated when men are never mentioned in the media or in breast cancer fundraising activities. 

 

 

After his treatment for breast cancer, Derek found that nothing could arouse sexual desire in him...

After his treatment for breast cancer, Derek found that nothing could arouse sexual desire in him...

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 Did you feel less of a man because of it?

 
That’s a good question. That is a good question. I don’t know how freely you want me to talk on that one. 
 
As freely as you like
 
Up to then I would say we had a good relationship, me and my wife, you know, like normal. Yeah, since then things did go downhill, very… it don’t even… like my wife said she did it for me. She held back, if you want to call it holding back. I didn’t pressure her. I thought oh, we’re not gonna be bothering doing anything like that now, and it’s materialised that we don’t. I still… enjoy… how can I say… I’m not embarrassed. Why should I be embarrassed?
 
I’m not embarrassed, so…
 
I blame it, I say it’s tablets. See what I say, it’s up there or not, I don’t… I can’t get an erection. Sex doesn’t bother me. I can’t get, and I’ve had this for now a lot of years. Without being funny, you’re watching erotic stuff on telly and there’s nothing, nothing whatsoever. I can’t get aroused, anything. I feel as though I’ve lost that part of my life, without a doubt of that. Whether that’s through this, through tablets or that I would really like to know. I know I did have a talk with my doctor once, I was gone a few years and he said, he mentioned Viagra but the wife said no just don’t even think about it. Past that now. You know? So… but yeah. I lost… six, eight years. Which… you just now, I just, it’s just I’m not interested. I can’t say I’m not… I’m not as… I always give my wife a kiss but that’s it. You know, we always before we go to work, before we go to bed, she goes before me, we’ve done that ever since and we always have done. That’s as far as it goes. That’s it, you know? Maybe she says I don’t say I love her like I used to. That goes with time sometimes. But it’s me that… I know I love her, I do love her. With all my heart. Yeah, I feel I missed… I don’t, I’m not angry about it now. It’s just part of me now, it’s just… doesn’t bother us. Not bothered, I don’t think. I don’t even think about it. Why think about it when it’s not going to happen.
 
 

Derek made it his goal to raise awareness that men get breast cancer too; he found that...

Derek made it his goal to raise awareness that men get breast cancer too; he found that...

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One thing that I haven’t said was everything I picked up, even when I was in the hospital and I had the bag on, the drain, ladies had a handbag or something, I got a carrier bag. And so my wife being there, well she brought me a bum bag, and it fitted in just nicely, and we put that to them and said that’s a very good idea for a man. I felt out of place cos the women all have these bags. I had a carrier bag, and it was little things like that. I once went down to [name of village] and it was in a shop window, women, breast cancer. I went in and says could I speak to the manager, just thought, “I had that”, she says, “Yeah, I’m sorry about that”, she says, and in a lot of things I was reading, the same with the exercises, it was all for women, fasten your bra and stuff like that. I know men don’t have bras, but I don’t, it was all little things I was picking up on. Don’t forget there’s men as well as women, and I made that the goal. I wasn’t aggressive, I have every respect for ladies who have got all this. It was like, well, we went to the [name of group] one day, we’ve got a new… one of the ladies is sat down who’s in charge, we’ve got another lady now and I went to this meeting and my wife says that’s three times she’s mentioned all women and it is an all-woman action group, really. But I’m a man, and at the end of it I just went up to them just by myself and I says three times you mentioned ladies and just, I’ve had breast cancer. She said, “I do apologise”, and she says, “Next time I’ll make sure I don’t…” And if they don’t mention it, that’s what attracts me or gets me, to say, I’ve got to say, I feel as though I have got to say something. I’m not aggressive, I’m not, I just make my point – men do have breast cancer. And that’s all I try and get over. And as I say, I’ve seen it, have you ever looked at the papers? The Evening Post, there was a guy in there once had it. In fact, he came for an interview with me as well for the Evening Post, yeah. So as I say, I do try my best to make the other half as well as the ladies, cos it does happen. It does happen.
 
So how do you feel, this probably follows on from this, my next question is actually about how pink the campaigns are and how, you know, all the campaigns are pink. They’re very feminine and…
 
They are, but I’ve got pink shirts now. I do it, I go in pink shirts. I was annoyed at the Run For Life, in that I asked why are men, why can’t we join in? Why can’t men do it? It’s for ladies only. Why ladies only? That, I made my point on that one as well.
 
And what was the response you got back from that?
 
Well, they said there’s going to be one for men, there was one for men, apparently, but I don’t think it was in our area. Very, not as… outright as what the ladies are in most areas of England and Wales and Scotland are, there’s men who just… you do it off your own bat. They do have them but not in the same field as ladies do, which sort of upset me. It does upset me and, as I say, I just feel as though I do have to make a point. I don’t shout, I don’t bawl, I just make my point, and if they accept that, well that’s… I feel as though I’ve achieved something.

 

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