Male breast cancer survivor from Kettering shares his story to raise awareness

Kevin is sharing his story to raise awareness of male breast cancer
Kevin is sharing his story to raise awareness of male breast cancer

A man from Kettering who was diagnosed with breast cancer wants men to be aware that the disease can also affect them.

Kevin Johnson's oncologist said he is only the second man he has seen with breast cancer in his whole career.

Kevin is now involved in Crazy Hats, a local breast cancer charity

Kevin is now involved in Crazy Hats, a local breast cancer charity

He is now trying sharing his story because October is Breast Cancer Awareness month.

Kevin is now a part of the Northamptonshire charity Crazy Hats, which supports women and men going through breast cancer.

Although rare, it is possible for men to develop breast cancer but Kevin said he never thought he would have the disease, even after he found a lump the size of a small hazelnut in October 2015.

The 60 year-old said: "I ignored it for a few days and thought 'it will be nothing.'"

A few days later the lump was still there and Kevin told his wife, who was concerned but let Kevin leave it a week before she insisted he went to his GP.

Kevin's GP promptly sent him for tests at KGH and within two weeks had a mammogram and a biopsy.

He said the trouble with a mammogram as a man is "there's nothing there to grab" while the biopsy was an more daunting prospect because the needle was a similar size to a straw, Kevin said: "I have never been in so much pain so quickly."

Not long after the tests, Kevin was told to bring his wife for the results.

"Being a man, I didn't think anything but she knew," said Kevin.

"I remember sitting in the waiting area and I was the only man there. I remember thinking all these people will think I am here to support my wife."

When Kevin was called through to the doctor, a nurse asked if she could check his weight first.

"My wife knew at that point it wasn't going to be good news and started crying. The doctor came in and broke the news I had cancer and wanted to operate on October 29 and then have chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

Kevin said it was very difficult to see his wife upset but managed to remain upbeat himself.

"I am very easy going and a very positive person, I don't think of negative outcomes.

"I was more concerned about the holiday I had booked to go to see a friend in Canada which I had to cancel otherwise the operation would have to be delayed due to the effect of the long haul flight on my blood."

Kevin said the other thing he found difficult was telling others about his diagnosis.

"I had to tell my friend in Canada that I had cancer and wouldn't be coming and also my work colleague who was going to Canada with me that the holiday was off." Fortunately Kevin had booked both of their trips so his colleague did not lose out as the cancellation was covered by insurance.

"Also, my best friend whose girlfriend had died of breast cancer, I also had to tell him I had cancer." Kevin said this was one of the hardest things he had to do.

On October 29, 2015, Kevin had a full mastectomy of his left breast and a lymph node was taken for testing.

Lymph nodes are small glands in the armpits and are tested during a mastectomy to see if the breast cancer has spread.

Kevin was told there was cancer in the biopsy of his lymph node so he was taken for surgery the day after his mastectomy to have the glands removed.

Kevin continued: "I then left the hospital with a drain attached and had to go for weekly check-ups at the treatment centre."

The drain did not bother Kevin, who used to hang it off his jeans. However, it was collecting a lot of fluid and the wound did not seem to be getting better.

Kevin became seriously ill one night when he was out with a friend, who took him home. By the time he got back, Kevin said: "I couldn't have told you who I was.

"I was taken to hospital to have another operation to clear the infection but I had to be returned to theatre as a swab was left inside me after the operation."

Most people would be concerned by such a mistake, but Kevin's truly positive approach to anything life throws at him is seen best the way he thinks about the surgical error.

He said: "To be honest, I am still alive and the people who did that kept me alive.

"The surgery was done on an emergency basis." His wound had been infected with e coli and he had sepsis.

"It was like everything that could go wrong, did. It was all made clear to me at the beginning, all the things that could happen."

The doctors decided not to stitch up Kevin's wound this time and it was covered in a dressing that he likened to a vacuum pack.

"I could see my ribs! My wife was terrified of it but it didn't bother me.

"It's left quite a scar across my chest."

Kevin enjoys swimming and said when one man asked him what had happened, he told the man it was a shark bite.

It was not until May 2016 that Kevin was healed and well enough to start chemotherapy. He had six sessions at three week intervals.

"It's basically a poison, it kills good stuff and bad stuff."

Kevin said the worst thing was the many side affects, most of which hit him in the middle week between chemo sessions.

"About a week after [the first session], you feel relatively okay but you feel like you're getting the worst cold you've ever had."

By the second week he had: "aches, cramps like you wouldn't believe. It felt like my muscles were trying to break the bones in my legs."

Kevin also said the chemo damaged his nails and made his hair fall out and it also made him lose his sense of taste so all his home-made curries became far too hot for anyone else because he'd added too much spice.

Following his chemotherapy treatment, Kevin had radiotherapy for a month.

"It started well but as time went on I got much more burnt. I lost all my hair on the left side of my chest which has never grown back.

"It's like being on a sun lamp for too long. It burns the skin like extremely bad sunburn, the worst sunburn you've ever had."

Kevin said the experience has changed him, he said: "I swim three times a week and I bike."

He also enjoys racing a dragster and has taken up kayaking and enjoys getting out on the water in Cornwall when he visits his daughter, who lives there.

Kevin's message to other men is: "Make sure you check, do not leave it. Anything, just go to the doctor and check it."