Last year, Lorraine’s partner, Richard, was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer. Finding a lack of support and awareness for male breast cancer, Lorraine has set up her own campaign, #bluegetittoo. Here, Lorraine tells us about Richard’s diagnosis, the impact that it has had on her and how she set up this campaign.
My partner’s diagnosis of breast cancer
“Male Breast Cancer, I didn’t know that was a thing!?” was the response most people gave me when I told them of Richard’s diagnosis, in November 2018. Metastatic Breast Cancer, with secondary lymph, lung and liver cancer. Richard had just turned 40 and our lives changed forever, in every way imaginable.
From the age of 11, concerned by an unsightly lump under his right nipple, Richard visited his GPs on several occasions and each time he was dismissed. Twenty nine years of asking questions and querying what it could be. “I categorically tell you, that will never turn to cancer”, was one GP’s response in Richard’s mid 30’s. Sadly they were all wrong.
Shortly after his 40th Birthday, Richard complained to me about a pain in his right side, radiating from his nipple lump, into what appeared to be a very swollen arm pit. I insisted that I take him to see his GP to get some answers. “That’s not right!” was the doctor’s response… at last some answers?
Richard was referred, as an emergency, to High Wycombe Hospital Breast Unit for bloods and biopsies. This was the first challenge. Richard is needle phobic. Not the pain of a needle, but what it symbolises to him – that he has somehow lost control, “people coming at me with needles” and unwanted intervention in his eyes.
At diagnosis, the metastatic tumour under Richard’s right nipple was 5.5cm in diameter.
A total mental breakdown ensued and I picked up all the pieces, being thrown from partner into carer mode, taking all responsibility for the medication for his mental health, chronic panic attacks, deep depression and appointments that seemed never ending and each involving needles and hours of mental torture for Richard who was trapped in his own head.
Richard’s cancer is HER2 positive, which means it’s an aggressive form of breast cancer which tested positive for a protein called HER2 (Human Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor 2) a mutated gene, which promotes the growth of cancer cells.
Treatment started immediately with 7 rounds of chemotherapy (a drug called Docetaxel) over 8 months (paired with steroids which gave him mania) alongside a targeted antibody treatment (transtuzumab and pertuzumab) which he will have in hospital intravenously, every three weeks, for the rest of his life or until it becomes ineffective. The malignant tumour will remain and will never be removed.
There’s little publicised documentation or commonly known facts around male breast cancer and statistics show, that although it’s rarer than female breast cancer (around 55,000 women in the UK) it’s still a real risk, with around 400 men in the UK being diagnosed every year.
As a partner, watching the person you live with, care for and love, suffer mentally and physically is horrific and should not be dismissed or underestimated as challenging at time. It’s what I describe as living ‘with’ cancer.
Richard has three young children from previous relationships, 15, 12 and 4 who visit us from time to time and I have a nine-year-old son who lives with us 50% of the time. My son is my rock and has been great emotional support to us both. He is an emotionally intelligent boy, kind and sensitive, a mother’s dream.
How our campaign came about…
My journey with Richard, during his on going treatment, has lead me to meet some inspiring and wonderful individuals. The first time I met Amanda, was at the Sunrise Chemotherapy Unit in High Wycombe hospital. We smiled across the room at each other, she was wearing a knitted pink beanie hat, with a nipple on the top. She asked me “do you like my nipple hat?” I replied “yes, do you have one in blue for Richard?” I couldn’t resist going over and chatting to her, I had to tell her how beautiful she was. When she discovered I’m a make-up artist and photographer, she asked me if I would make her up and photograph her for her personal journal, scars and all. Amanda and her breast cancer group of friends were keen to lend us their emotional support.
I was desperate to give Richard a voice, to do something to create impact and get the attention of the public that breast cancer, although more prevalent in women, is in fact a cancer for all and that it does not discriminate. Campaigns bill breast cancer as PINK; pink for the cancer exclusively for women right? Wrong! I want to change that misconception. Breast cancer does not discriminate. We all have two nipples.
As a hair and make-up artist and portrait photographer, it dawned on me that with my creative skills and turning pain into passion, I could create something visually very powerful.
Finding solace in my work- the moments I could be ME – I realised how my art provided an outlet for stress and the opportunity to use my professional artistic talents to visually raise awareness of male breast cancer. So between regular chemotherapy and oncology appointments with Richard, caring for his welfare, my professional career and being mum, my campaign idea evolved into a positive spin on reality.
Inspired, excited and with moral support, I realised this was something I wanted to share with the masses. A campaign of stunning artistic images: ‘scars and all’, real, raw, tasteful portraits of breast cancer heroes, united together, to visually help raise awareness of male breast cancer and early detection, not only aimed at the general public but as a wake up call to GP’s.
So with the willing help of the wonderful group I call my BREAST FRIENDS, I created in its entirety, #bluegetittoo which I launched on 1st October 2019 to coincide with Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Flying the blue flag for men, uniting them with women in the fight against breast cancer and for awareness of the importance of early detection.
#bluegetittoo is a visual photographic campaign. It is real and impacting, with an emotive short film (4 mins) entitled “Men Too?” which I made with film maker Neale James of Breathe Pictures, my wonderful friend and colleague. His support and belief in me, my work and our story, has been paramount to this campaign – he totally got it! I set the scenes and he captured our story beautifully. In a month we’ve had around 14k views across social media and I have done radio interviews and had features in the media to promote the campaign and awareness. I wanted this to grow organically and with your help, it has grown more than I possibly imagined.
We are parents with sons. No son, brother, father or friend, no one, male or female should have to be told, “you’ve got an incurable cancer”
#bluegetittoo is not a charity, it is a non profit awareness campaign all funded, created and designed by me and fueled by my passion and love.
Breast cancer is not just pink, blue get it too and if this visual campaign saves one man, or woman’s life, then I’ve found our purpose.
I would love to hear from men or carers/partners of men with breast cancer who feel alone in the breast cancer world, you’re not! I’m flying the blue flag for awareness, uniting men and women. It is the same cancer for both, with the same treatments.
Men must check their chests too, there is no shame, we are all made the same.
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