And after the shock of the diagnosis wears off, the truth comes in the darkness. An invader is there, not causing any pain, silently doing the thing it does well, doubling and redoubling itself in order to choke my body. It has to be dealt with.
It began with a spot. I’m a solicitor so I wear white shirts a lot, and in the middle of a meeting I see the spot. Just a little discharge from my nipple, hardly anything really, tiny bit of blood in it, must have scratched it. After a few days it goes away and I get on with life.
A few months later the discharge comes back, my wife notices it, I mention it to a client with a medical background who has become a friend. I probably would have just ignored it again, but they make me promise to get it checked out. A few weeks later, right at the end of a session with the GP, I have an afterthought and tell him, and he arranges an ultrasound. Sure enough, there it is.
What I didn’t know was that, at that time, former NSW Premier Nick Greiner was having an almost identical experience. A white shirt with a tiny spot of blood, nothing more for months, then a little lump, probably a blocked duct, surely nothing to worry about.
We both got it early, and the surgery wasn’t too bad, compared to what it could have been like if we’d waited too long, and we didn’t need chemo or radiotherapy because we got it before it had a chance to colonise too much of us.
Most men wait too long to face their cancer. The spot that Nick and I had is not the only indicator that’s there’s something going on. It could be a lump, scaliness or redness near the nipple, skin dimpling, or enlargement of the tissue. If you see changes in that area, talk to someone about it and have it checked out.
My case and family history led to a genetic scan, which disclosed the BRCA2 gene, and it was likely that some of my family, both here and in Scotland, may be affected. Even if the test is negative they will be particularly vigilant for warning signs. If this saves somebody’s life, my experience will have been worth it.
On average about three men a week in Australia are diagnosed with breast cancer, barely 1 per cent of the 300 women who will hear those four terrifying words, so we’re in a minority. Possibly there are not enough of us to reach critical mass for our own support group, so we are graciously invited to the fringe of the Pink Ladies.
Speaking at the inaugural Sydney fundraiser lunch for Breast Cancer Network Australia, Nick Greiner spoke candidly about his experience, and his reactions to it. There are Pink Ladies everywhere, and everyone in the room has been affected in some way by breast cancer. Nick laments that we blokes haven’t managed to get ourselves a colour yet. Is purple taken?