Having fought breast cancer and life-threatening infection 59 year old Roy Collins is facing another tough battle - to persuade the world that men as well as women fall victim to this devastating and destructive condition.
His aim is to spread awareness of breast cancer in men and urge them to monitor for early diagnosis and best chance of successful treatment should the worst happen.
Roy, who as a PCSO is a familiar face on Bexhill streets, was diagnosed with breast cancer in October 2011 and underwent full mastectomy on the right side and complete clearance of lymph nodes under his right arm.
This was followed by weeks of chemotherapy and radiotherapy and Roy will take daily drugs for the next five years.
Roy knows he was lucky his disease was discovered so quickly - his wife Teresa spotted a lump when Roy was in the shower.
“I am married to a nurse - and there is a bit of a bonus there,” he said.
“Teresa is always looking out for signs of this or that, so it was all her observation. I certainly didn’t feel any pain anywhere. Like most blokes I am not going to be squeezing my boobs to see if there are any lumps. I was fortunate she saw it when she did but even then the consultant reckoned it was at least six months old. The whole thing had to come off and the cancer had gone to the lymph nodes under the arm. But with earlier diagnosis there is less chance of it spreading.”
Roy had another scare when he went on holiday to Tenerife - an infection threatened his right arm’s already depleted immune system and saw him critically ill with lymphangitis/cellulitis and in hospital for the entire week. A doctor who saw him arrive on Saturday told him later he hadn’t expected to see him still alive on Monday.
Roy admits he was “in a state” but felt more sorry for his wife who was left alone the entire time.
“It must have been such a lonely experience for her,” he said. “It was so unpleasant.”
This was the couple’s first holiday away since the cancer but Roy is philosophical: “There you go,” he commented. “It is just the hand you are dealt with.”
Since overcoming the trauma Roy’s aim has been to spread awareness but he finds preconceptions hard to deal with and tough to break down - even among health professionals. When he agreed to become a media representative for Breast Cancer Care he was stunned to be sent questions via email to answer such as - would you be happy to be photographed wearing a bra or bikini top?
“I thought - that says it all. The whole form looks very much as if it was designed to be sent to women only. And I had explained to them my situation. Also I have never seen anything on television or heard anything on radio where any medical professinal has been speaking about breast cancer in men. There has been recent talk about the possible effectiveness of tamoxifen in treating breast cancer - so why doesn’t anybody mention than men can contract this disease?
“Breast cancer is one of those things where prevention is better than cure. It should be standard practice when a man in his middle years has a health check that he be tested for breast cancer along with the other well man clinic health issues such as prostate cancer and bowel cancer. I want to go out there and say- I have had male breast cancer and I want to let you know that it is worth getting checked. Men get it too.”