The Blog

But Men Don't Get Breast Cancer, Right?

I had no idea that men could even get breast cancer. My partner had no idea that men could get breast cancer. My friends, my family, seemingly no one was aware that men could get breast cancer. And yet there I stood, with breast cancer.

My name is Douglas Edward Harper. I was born in Barkingside on 15 January 1962. The first few decades of my life I was just like anyone else.

Fast forward to 2011 and I was still like everyone else. Forty-nine years old and the father to four girls from a previous marriage (Kirsty, Nancy, Molly and Emily), and a one year old son (Spencer) with my muse, Sarah Jane (SJ). Just an average good guy - and then I found out that I was different. I became one of only 370 men a year in the UK to be diagnosed with breast cancer.

I had no idea that men could even get breast cancer. My partner had no idea that men could get breast cancer. My friends, my family, seemingly no one was aware that men could get breast cancer. And yet there I stood, with breast cancer.

That breast cancer diagnosis was in January this year, three days before my 50th birthday. I'd been worried about the lump on my nipple for a while; it had seemed to escalate over the previous few months. SJ had even said that the fact that my nipple was inverted was a sign of breast cancer (not that she thought that it was, it was an excuse to get me to the doctors - "Men don't get breast cancer!"). I honestly thought it was no big deal.

The day I was told I had breast cancer (D Day, or perhaps more appropriately, C Day) my appointment was scheduled for 3:11. I loved the fact that my consultant was so precise. He must have shared my OCD! The consultant said, "Hello Mr Harper, we have the results of your tests and I am afraid that you have cancer". CANCER.

I was in the room for five minutes and the consultant said a lot but I heard nothing except CANCER, CANCER, CANCER, CANCER.

The last word you want to hear.

I walked out of the hospital and wondered how I was going to tell SJ, my kids and my Mum. I plucked up the courage and rang SJ first. She was brave but I found out later that she cried her eyes out. I then rang my ex wife so she could tell my four daughters and they cried their eyes out as well.

So that was that. I went home and got a hug and much love from SJ and Spencer and I sat down in the knowledge that I would not be doing the dishes for a couple of weeks. Silver clouds and all that!

That was several months ago and a lot has happened since then, including my mastectomy in March. I had read some stuff about feeling depressed and a sense of loss at losing a part of my body. However I didn't think I'd be worried, lets be honest, the nipple on a bloke is not exactly integral, in fact, the thing is useless! Yet I mourned it.

Then there was chemo. Everyone reacts differently to treatment. For me, losing my hair has had a really negative effect. I guess that is because it is visual proof that I have cancer. I have always had a fair amount of hair and I still get a shock sometimes when I look at my patchy balding head in the mirror. Plus my best feature was my eye lashes!

Breast cancer has also meant that I have missed gigs and football matches where I would normally see a lot of my mates and it has begun to concern me that I am becoming a bit of a recluse. I have been content to stay at home. Apart from seeing doctors and nurses I have just watched the TV or gone on the computer to write my blog, look up various breast cancer related things and have the obligatory look on Facebook, Twitter and emails (oh yeah and a few sessions on Football Manager!). Before the operation, I thought I would spend a lot of time writing songs, but I have not had the inclination. My creative juices have been spent on breast cancer.

The whole of this year has been so strange, confusing, and heartbreaking, that at times I do not know what the hell has happened or is going to happen. But it hasn't all been bad. Pre-cancer I was one of those people that would go out of their way to avoid any mention of the disease, in any media outlet. I did not want to think about it. If I was listening to the radio and cancer was mentioned I would switch channels.

Now I have gone hell for leather in trying to get more awareness for male breast cancer, starting with my blog, and then going on to model in Breast Cancer Care's London fashion show. The fashion show is taking place on 3 October and I will be modelling alongside 23 other people who have all been diagnosed with breast cancer. It has been amazing meeting and bonding with the other models and I think we will be friends for life. I'm quite nervous about the actual show though. Although I've been in bands for years I've never had to perform in front of this many people - let's hope I remember how to walk like a model!

There have been other positives too. The diagnosis has brought my family closer together and, the truth is, the nurses, receptionists, doctors and even the porters who helped me when I got lost in the hospital have been brilliant throughout. The good thing about being a male with breast cancer is that when I call Sarah, the breast cancer specialist at QE hospital, I like the fact that she knows exactly who I am. You cannot mistake me for a female!

Read Doug's full blog 'One of 300 men'

Doug is a model at Breast Cancer Care's annual fashion show on 3 October at Grosvenor House, A JW Marriott Hotel. Buy tickets and support Breast Cancer Care.