Paul is living with metastatic breast cancer. He shares his inspirational story as a husband and dad, determined to live a happy and long life with his family.
Paul wants to use his experience to help raise awareness of male breast cancer for other men diagnosed.
In February 2018 I was holidaying with my partner Shauna when I developed concern about my left chest (breast). In the months prior I had noticed some misshaping of my breast, but it was when it became tender to touch that I was suspicious something wasn’t right.
My mother and sister had breast cancer in the years prior, so a phone call to their surgeon secured an appointment for me immediately upon my return to Melbourne. I had an ultrasound and biopsy which confirmed that I had early-stage breast cancer and just days later I had a mastectomy on my left breast.
While the initial diagnosis came as a shock, it also wasn’t completely surprising given my family history of breast cancer. The BRCA-2 gene mutation runs in my family, which I discovered I carried after my diagnosis.
To reduce the chance of my cancer returning, I also had a prophylactic mastectomy on my right breast and was told I had a two per cent chance of the cancer returning in the future.
After surgery I had three months of intravenous chemotherapy and started ongoing endocrine therapy. My prognosis was excellent at this stage, and to me my experience was a bump in the road. I started my new job as a psychiatric nurse and mental health key clinician soon after.
Unfortunately, at Christmas time in 2021, I found out the cancer had metastasised when it was detected in my ribs. It was a relatively minor spread, so I was given a diagnosis of oligometastatic breast cancer. This carried with it a good prognosis with long-term life expectancy, and I was still able to remain optimistic.
I had a third surgery to remove further cancer growth in my left chest wall, followed by 25 sessions of radiotherapy. The cancerous legions on my ribs were targeted with cutting edge radiotherapy, and across two additional sessions, these legions were obliterated. I commenced ongoing further systemic treatment in the form of targeted therapy, an alternative form of endocrine therapy, and injections for my bones.
Unfortunately, this systemic therapy proved to be unsuccessful, and in July of 2022, I was given a diagnosis of stage 4 metastatic breast cancer, with further spread to my spine, hips, and leg.
This was a devastating blow for me and my young family, particularly when facing discussions about life expectancy of less than 10 years.
My partner Shauna was pregnant with our second child at the time, which made it even harder
We now have a beautiful newborn baby girl, Charlie, and a wonderful little boy, Archie, who is nearly three years old.
Through Shauna’s work in medical research, we had a general awareness of what was out there in terms of ensuring the BRCA-2 gene wasn’t passed onto our children. With Shauna’s protective instincts, and with the help of Peter MacCallum and Melbourne IVF, we used pre-implantation genetic testing to ensure that both Archie and Charlie were BRCA-2 negative. Eliminating the lineage of BRCA-2 related cancers for our children has been a massive relief for us.
My ongoing treatment consists of daily oral chemotherapy and injections for my bones every couple of months. I’m also on the lookout for clinical trials that offer good potential. I like to be active in my treatment by doing everything possible that’s within my control. I’ve been focussing heavily on my health and fitness since my initial diagnosis and have lost 30kg through running daily and regular strength training. Without this, I think I would feel like a passenger waiting to see what the cancer is going to do. Instead, I am central to my own care.
My experience as a male with breast cancer hasn’t been a bad one. I haven’t felt embarrassed by the diagnosis, but I can certainly see how some men would. I think it’s important that we raise awareness for male breast cancer. Time and time again, breast cancer is depicted solely as a woman’s disease through the images and language chosen. It’s important to understand that this can further isolate men who might feel self-conscious and uncomfortable to reach out for support. There have been some changes in this area, but further improvement is needed.
Despite facing a reduced lifespan, I like to invest my thoughts and energy into what is possible rather than what is probable. I plan to defy the odds by continuing to fight. I am really looking forward to spending lots of time with Shauna and my young family. We are currently planning world travel and I’m also indulging my academic passions by studying my MBA with Edinburgh Business School, Scotland, and my Law degree with the University of London.
When it comes to fighting cancer, perhaps it’s a bit of a romantic notion. Can one really fight cancer? If fighting cancer means doing your best every day through accessing everything possible that can help, and continuing to follow your dreams with defiance, then yes, we can fight cancer. Fight … the world is waiting for you!
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