'I didn't know men like me could get breast cancer - then I was diagnosed'

Like many people, John Beardsmore thought breast cancer was a disease which could not affect men like him.

John Beardsmore from East Wemyss, Fife
John Beardsmore from East Wemyss, Fife

But in 2010 Mr Beardsmore, from East Wemyss, Fife, watched a TV documentary about male breast cancer – which grows in the small amount of breast tissue that men have behind their nipples.

That same night Mr Beardsmore, decided to check his chest in the bath – and was shocked to discover a small lump under his right nipple.

He went to his GP and was referred to the Queen Margaret Hospital in Dunfermline, where after an ultrasound scan and a biopsy he was diagnosed with breast cancer.

John Beardsmore was diagnosed with breast cancer twice

He had a mastectomy and four lymph nodes removed, followed by 20 sessions of radiotherapy at the Western General in Edinburgh. He then took the hormone therapy drug Tamoxifen for a decade.

Despite later being diagnosed with lung cancer and then breast cancer a second time in 2019, the 65-year-old has a positive outlook on his experience.

He wants to raise awareness about male breast cancer, and has acted as a support for many other men who have been diagnosed.

"I’m a survivor, I keep laughing,” he said.

John is one of several men who have been diagnosed with breast cancer raising awareness of the disease. Picture: Walk the Walk/Paul Brown

"I’m a natural optimist, and I always think I’m lucky rather than unlucky. People say I’m unlucky to have had the cancer but I’m lucky that they caught it early.”

Mr Beardsmore is taking part in Walk the Walk’s “Men get breast cancer too” campaign.

Each year 370 men are diagnosed with breast cancer in the UK, and 81 die of the disease.

"It’s an unknown thing, still,” said Mr Beardsmore,.

"It affects men quite differently to the way it affects women. A lot of men feel quite ashamed by it, they think it’s a women’s disease. I’m very lucky I’m an open man, I can talk about anything.

"I’m very chill, I just get on with it, but many men I’ve counselled have found it deeply difficult.

Mr Beardsmore believes peer support is vital for men with breast cancer.

"It’s good to meet someone else who has also had it. It’s one of the best things you can do. You can get an idea of what it’s like to live with, what it feels like to have the surgery, and the after effects,” he said.

Dr Kerry Quincey, psychology lecturer who specialises in research around men diagnosed with breast cancer, said: "The misconception that breast cancer is a women's illness has long been perpetuated. This can, and does, have a profound impact on men who are diagnosed with the disease; psychologically, because men find it difficult to talk about their diagnosis; and physiologically, with the lack of awareness and associated stigma contributing to preventable deaths.

“Walk the Walk's 'Men Get Breast Cancer Too!' campaign importantly buck's the trend when it comes to raising breast cancer awareness. Not only do the chest check posters inform and educate men, and the t-shirts afford men a sense of identity and belonging within the breast cancer community, but the campaign was developed with men, ensuring that their wants and needs are heard and listened to.”

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