Fife man who survived breast cancer urges others to 'check, check and check again'

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A Fife man has spoken of his experience of breast cancer in a new campaign to remove the stigma from the condition.

John Beardsmore (66), from East Wemyss, has since teamed-up breast cancer charity, Walk the Walk, to help promote its Men Get Breast Cancer Too! campaign to raise awareness.

He first discovered he had breast cancer in 2010

There is currently very little research, and no routine screening specifically for men, so most cancers are found by self-checking, or just noticing changes.

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John Beardsmore.John Beardsmore.
John Beardsmore.

Male breast cancer affects between 370-400 men a year in the UK, but more than 80 men a year die due to not knowing men can get this type of cancer, and not carrying out regular checks.

Breast cancer usually affects men aged 50 and over, but it can be happen at any age.

John first discovered something wasn’t right after watching a show on TV that highlighted male breast cancer.

He said: “Television saved my life!.

Men Get Breast Cancer Too logo.Men Get Breast Cancer Too logo.
Men Get Breast Cancer Too logo.

"I was watching a programme when a feature about male breast cancer came on.

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“Up until that point, I didn’t know that men could get breast cancer, but watching it prompted me to check my chest, later that same night, while I was in the bath.

“I was shocked to discover a small lump under my right nipple. I asked my partner Margaret to have a look and she could feel it too.

“I wanted my GP to check out the lump as soon as possible and made an appointment a couple of days later.

Some of the men who are taking part in the Men Get Breast Cancer Too! campaign.Some of the men who are taking part in the Men Get Breast Cancer Too! campaign.
Some of the men who are taking part in the Men Get Breast Cancer Too! campaign.

“My doctor was convinced it was nothing to worry about, but referred me for further tests - just to be on the safe side.”

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That took him to Queen Margaret Hospital in Dunfermline, where, in his own words, “things started to get much more serious,.”John’s consultant sent him for an ultrasound scan and a biopsy which revealed a seven millimetre lump on his right nipple. He returned a week later, and was told that he had breast cancer.

Despite the devastating news, he remained positive and he wasn’t afraid to talk about it with others.

“Throughout my whole life, I’ve always been very open about everything,” he said. “My attitude was that I was going to deal with it – this is my lot and I’ll make the most of it!

“Just hours after I was diagnosed, I went to my folk club in Kirkcaldy with Margaret and told everyone that I had breast cancer. That really helped actually – to get it out there.

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“After my diagnosis, I had surgery, during which I had a mastectomy and four lymph nodes removed, to see if the cancer had spread.

“One of them did test positive – I was given the option to have the rest of my lymph nodes taken out too, but I really didn’t want any more surgery.

“I had 20 sessions of radiotherapy instead in the excellent cancer unit at the Western General Hospital in Edinburgh and was also told to take the hormone therapy drug Tamoxifen for five years, although I went on to take it for ten.”

After John’s mastectomy and recovery, in 2017 he teamed-up with breast cancer charity, Walk the Walk, to help promote its Men Get Breast Cancer Too! campaign.

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Originally there were six participants. Now there are 24 men, who have united to spread awareness of the disease among men.

However, John’s cancer journey was not over yet as fate had decided to deal him another blow.

Nine years later, he was diagnosed with breast cancer for a second time. He also discovered he had lung cancer.

“At the last mammogram following my first breast cancer diagnosis, doctors found a four millimetre lump - this time by my left nipple,” he explained.

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The one he found in 2010 and the new one in 2019 were two separate primary cancers.

John said: I had another mastectomy and my hormone treatment was switched from Tamoxifen to Letrozole.

I’ve now gone back to having annual mammograms.

“My consultant said that being a man diagnosed with two separate primary breast cancers was really unusual, and he sent me for genetic tests.

“I’m from an Ashkenazi Jewish family, and research has shown that women from my background are more likely to carry the BRCA gene, which gives them a greater risk of being diagnosed with the disease.

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"So, it wasn’t actually surprising when the tests discovered I did have the BRCA2 gene, which not only increases my chances of getting breast cancer, but prostate and pancreatic cancer too.

If I’d known earlier about BRCA2, I might have been able to take preventative action, before I was diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time.”

After his experiences, John is in no doubt that men shouldn’t be afraid to check for, and talk about, male breast cancer - and he urges them to check themselves regularly.

"Men should check, check, and check again for lumps,” he added. “If you want to save your life go to see your GP if you find any lumps around your nipples.

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"Each man deals with his diagnosis differently, there is a stigma that surrounds breast cancer that it is only women who get it, and that it is a women’s disease.

"Breast cancer doesn’t care if you are male or female, it will kill you if you don’t find it soon enough.”

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