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Alan - Interview 18

Age at interview: 73
Age at diagnosis: 71
Brief Outline: Diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005. He had a mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and Arimidex. He was also offered reconstruction which he refused.
Background: Alan is a retired engineering manager. He is married and has 2 adult children. Ethnic background' White British (English).

More about me...

 Alan knew that men could get breast cancer and when he noticed his nipple inverting while on holiday, he knew that he had to see his GP as soon as he returned home. When he received his diagnosis he wanted to know what was to be done and wanted it dealt with quickly. However, his wife was devastated.

 
Following his first cycle of chemotherapy Alan had a severe infection and he was hospitalised for a few days. He was then required to have daily injections to boost his immune system. Waiting for the district nurse to visit restricted his daily routine and he was taught to do his own injections to allow him to get it when it suited him. He was disappointed that when his hair grew back after his chemotherapy it was a lot finer because he used to have thick hair.
 
He was very open about his diagnosis. He told his friends at his social group that it was important they knew men could get breast cancer and what to look out for. Most of the men were shocked and listened but there was one man who made jokes. 
 
He received a lot of information from the hospital but he had to go through it and pick out what was relevant to him, as a man, and disregard a lot. He also went on the internet, and although information was not readily available on breast cancer in men, he felt that with some persistence some information could be found. 
 
He feels his breast cancer was not as serious as it is for a woman and he describes his mastectomy scar as a ‘war wound.’ 
 
Alan now feels that he has recovered from his breast cancer. He feels that it is in the past and he is continuing with his life, doing the things he enjoys. 
 
 

Alan saw his inverted nipple while on a cruise. He thought there was no point seeing the ship's...

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Alan saw his inverted nipple while on a cruise. He thought there was no point seeing the ship's...

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 Well I had no idea I had got anything wrong with me. I was fit as a lark to ice skating, gym, we were on holiday and Caribbean cruise. And we had a balcony, and I came off the balcony, I was in shorts obviously, and there was fortunately a mirror in front of me and I thought, that’s a bit odd. Anyway, first examination was, the nipple was inverted.

 
Oh right.
 
So I was five thousand miles from civilisation so I said nothing. Got home I said right, I need to see the doctor. And this is the thing that was quite- I’m sure it happens to most fellows, the wife had cancer I didn’t, if you know what I mean. She was absolutely devastated when I said I was going to see the doctor. That seeing the [name of GP] was the difficult bit, takes you about ten, twelve days to see our medical profession. Once I saw her and she picked me up at the appointment with [name of hospital] which is the main cancer hospital, I sort of saw him on the Thursday, I think a fortnight later I was in, had the op. No, sorry- I saw him and then I had several scans, I had a CT scan, a bone scan, don’t think I had any more. Anyway, then I had the operation.
 
You were on holiday when you found the lump. Did you say to your wife then that you’ve found it?
 
Oh no, oh no [laughs]. There was no point. Cause I mean I knew she would be concerned, as obviously- if it was the same with her. So I thought well there’s no point, I can’t do anything about it. I mean there’s a ship’s doctor but I mean, there’s no point. So I waited until we got home which would have been about a week later. So I mean the problem I had was I don’t know how long I’d had it. And I could have had it for a couple of years. I’ve no idea. In fact when I went to have the tests in the hospital, when I went to the doctor’s, she wasn’t quite sure whether there was a lump there. You could sort of just feel something, it wasn’t until they went to the- punched a needle through and did a, a mammogram which was quite fun [laughs]. That’s how they found there was a lump there. And they took it from there.
 
So once you had seen the doctor it was ten, twelve days?
 
Something like that, yes.
 
And how long then was it till your referral to the hospital?
 
Oh, about a week. It was very quick, very quick.
 
So your GP recognised there might be something there, she wasn’t sure and just ..
 
Because the nipple was inverted you see, I mean there was a distinct difference if you know, men – So it’s obviously, I mean when you actually read the literature it’s a classic sign of breast cancer, in men, isn’t it?
 

After one of his sessions of chemotherapy Alan noticed he had a high temperature and was...

After one of his sessions of chemotherapy Alan noticed he had a high temperature and was...

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On my first set of chemo, I had it on the Monday, and I’d read the booklet, it said if your temperature is thirty eight, for- after two hours. Well on the Sunday I had quite a high temperature, so I rang the hospital up and she says, “Come in”. So I went in and they obviously.., so she said, “We’ll have to keep you in overnight”. So I said, “Why?” Well, [laughs] there’s a bit of a saga there, because [name of hospital] has no, blood analysis facilities, it took them three goes, cause they have to send it from [name of hospital], to [name of another hospital] which is quite a distance as you probably know. So when they discovered that- I can’t remember what it was, but one of the components of my body- blood was point one, lifted to point one, which is literally immeasurable, normally it’s fourteen, they kept me in for three days, and I had a severe infection. And so, the- when I came out the sister was in her forties, sat me down and she says, “Right, I want you to listen what I’m going to say to you” and she said, “You were very seriously ill and you didn’t realise it”. She said, “it was an infection”, she said, “can you try and keep away from public places”, she says “and when you do a job like cutting the grass which I’m sure you will, if you feel tired sit down, and-“. And I said okay, it’s like eating elephants, bite it off slowly. So, the Friday night prior to the Sunday, we have an old gentleman’s club in the pub where we put the world to rights. So I’d been to the pub. Now pub glasses are notoriously not cleaned properly. So I completely stopped going, to anything like that. And I went out obviously but, I didn’t eat or drink outside. And I kept- for the whole rest of the period I was perfectly all right. 

 

 

Alan was told he needed a mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiotherapy, but he did query his need...

Alan was told he needed a mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiotherapy, but he did query his need...

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So were you given a choice in your treatment?

 
Well I was just told what they were going to do. You know it was have the breast off, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. I did query the radiotherapy with my GP, cause I got a little bit of a sense that the- the guy that does the chemotherapy and that was a- oh yes, boom boom boom without any thought. I got a little bit of, you know, I felt the- cause the surgeon, okay I saw him, and then the chemotherapy by another- a doctor. And I was- anyway, fortunately the- my surgeon who I got on very well with, he had written a letter to my GP, recommending the treatment that I had. So I was quite happy about that. But it was the sort of cavalier way in which it was presented to me, and I thought, hang about a bit, you know. 
 

Alan said the ‘dearth’ of information about breast cancer in men made it seem ‘solely a female...

Alan said the ‘dearth’ of information about breast cancer in men made it seem ‘solely a female...

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 So that’s- that’s the way, how it all happens, and that’s why I say you know, went to the pub when I’d been diagnosed, I said “right lads, task for tonight is to feel your nipples”. They said, “What do you mean?” I explained it and one or two guys said, “Ooh, ooh”. I said “when you get home, have a quiet feel, I mean I hope there’s nobody here”, I said,” cause it’s a very low percentage of people have it, but if I stop one more person having a problem I’ve done you know, I’ve done my job shall we say”. So it’s quite interesting. And how one of the lads have said, it was a shock, again one lad said ‘I didn’t know you could get breast cancer’. I said ‘well, you know, we’re only slightly different from women you know.

 
There is a dearth of information about male [breast cancer], and it sort of infers that it is solely a female problem, yes I mean. I suppose if you go back ten years probably yeah that was true, but now it isn’t true and I think… it... I suppose, again having access to the internet, and I always… I have a theory, it’s out there somewhere, it may take you a few minutes to find it, or a few hours to find it, but you can find websites about it. But its not- when you put in, you type in breast cancer and the first website that comes up won’t necessarily refer to- it can happen in men. Again, because I think the diagnosis by men is- I mean I can’t speak for every man but the majority of men I think probably don’t examine their breasts. I never did, you know, I’m not afraid to admit it. One of the lads in the pub said, “Well, the gays’ll find it quick enough won’t they?” [Laughing] But that’s- slightly homophobic but, okay. But yeah, I mean it’s probably a comment, you know that- as I say, when I see people on- stripped off, I always have a look now, I mean normally I would never look. Cause one day I might say, “Hey hang on, I don’t want to panic you but-“you know. But, yes it’s like everything else isn’t it, if you’re not aware of what to look for you don’t know- as Rumsfelt said, ‘We don’t know what we don’t know’, which is very true. So, yeah.
 
Did you use the internet a lot to look for information, through your treatment or-?
 
‘Not through my treatment no, I looked at it initially but sort of. Cause there’s so limited information anyway so, it isn’t really a great help but. 
 

Alan had been introduced to a support officer at the hospital in case he wanted to talk to her.

Alan had been introduced to a support officer at the hospital in case he wanted to talk to her.

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Were you offered at the time, any support such as going to support group or speaking to someone else about it?

 
Yeah, they have a lady at [name of hospital] who’s there most of the time, there’s a room for coffee, and she’s a sort of support officer. I was taken there and shown that and if I wanted to come. And in fact, I was having a chemo- waiting for chemo and the nurse said, “Do you want to go and talk to a support officer”. So I said, “Well all right”, you know, Especially when the lad next door, he’s about twenty and he’s got to have another ninety chemotherapy sessions. So I thought, rather puts me in perspective. [Laughs] You know, he was bald and you know, he looked, he looked ill. I don’t know if I looked ill or not, but he looked ill. And I thought, well, I used to sit there on a Monday afternoon, have to look around and I’d think nothing wrong with you lad. [Laughs] Compared to what other people have got.
 
Yeah. So when you were getting your chemotherapy, could you chat to other people? Could you all sort of- or were you in a little bay?
 
I was probably as far away from the next person as I am to you, but we were side on, that way. So you could talk to the nurse obviously cause she was watching you but towards the end, after I’d had a couple of sessions I used to wander off, cause they knew I would sit there and, fall asleep. But yes.
 

Alan thinks that people shouldn’t ‘pussyfoot’ around in talking about breast cancer.

Alan thinks that people shouldn’t ‘pussyfoot’ around in talking about breast cancer.

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 When we started doing this study we were using the term “male breast cancer”, I was just wondering if you had any opinion on that term?

 
It is what it is, isn’t it? It’s breast cancer. There’s, there’s no point in pussy footing around, I mean it’s cancer of the breast isn’t it, in the man? Oh yeah that’s a-
 
That’s all right.
 
Well I’m an engineer so I believe in facts are facts, so it- yeah it’s- I mean I don’t believe he’s a rodent catcher, he’s a rat catcher isn’t he? [Laughs]
 
I think some men felt that when we were using the term “male breast cancer” we were making it sound as though it was something different, because when we talk about breast cancer people assume it’s women, and we don’t talk about female breast cancer.
 
No but… yeah but I think it is- it’s semantics isn’t it really? If someone says to me you’ve got male breast cancer, that’ll not worry me because it is- you know- I suppose it is subtly different isn’t it, because women get all sorts of problems don’t they? 
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