The man who survived breast cancer
15 November 2020
By Mahlatse Mothiba
When a middle-aged man from Polokwane, Limpopo first noticed a pea-sized lump in his right nipple one evening in 2006 while bathing, he called his wife to show her the lump. He jokingly said it was cancer, but when his wife advised that he consult a doctor, his “male stubbornness” kicked in and he dismissed the advice.
About six months later while at a general check-up, Bobby Were was given a referral letter to see a surgeon regarding the lump but he put it off yet again.
In December 2008 while picking up his wife, Linda, from her doctor’s appointment, she asked that he get her doctor to look at the lump which was not only bigger than its original pea size, but was also slightly oozing and orange, a symptom he thought was as a result of irritation caused by his phone which was always in his shirt pocket.
When the doctor said “That’s cancer” just by just looking at it without any other form of examination, Were was a bit upset, because he did not consider it serious although there was a history of cancer in the males of his family. He was given a referral and only managed to see a surgeon three weeks later, in January 2009, who confirmed that it was cancer.
Were first underwent a mastectomy (removal of breast tissue) on February 4, 2009 which confirmed he had stage 3 cancer. He then underwent chemotherapy by catheter, which was then followed by radiation.
Linda says that the biggest changes they experienced as a family was “the need to accept that Bobby was undergoing treatment, and that our support had to change daily” according to the kind of support he required at a specific moment. While on treatment, Linda had to help him with activities he could not do by himself such as bathing. She also had to change the meals she would normally prepare as they were no longer his favourite as a side effect of the treatment.
During this time a lot changed. Bobby had to sell 80% of his gardening and landscaping business, and the fear of a recurrence forced the family to make “plans using an interval of hours, days and weeks and no longer months and years” says Linda.
Information and awareness on the occurrence of male breast cancer is not as documented and easily accessible in South Africa as female breast cancer is. That is why it is not usually the first considered diagnosis when a man notices a lump in his breast.
Bobby mentions that while he did not actively look for a support group, he was fortunate to know a male breast cancer survivor, who had just finished chemotherapy. He warned Bobby that the next stage of recovery would involve “mind games” and so he had to keep his mind occupied with other things rather than to focus on the challenges with by the treatment.
According to the underreported and outdated (2016) information from the Breast Health Foundation, South Africa has the highest rate of male breast cancer cases in the world, with two out of 100 men being diagnosed.
It is for that reason that after his successful treatment, Bobby has since made it his mission to raise awareness about male breast cancer and to offer support by “visiting the hospital, patients receiving chemo… radiation because it has to be done”.
Although 10 years have passed, what makes Bobby’s story relevant is that male breast cancer is on the rise, and as an ambassador he has been able to help many men to realise that breast cancer is something that can be overcome when treated on time. He says that education about male breast cancer is important because “when the cancer starts, it is not painful, so people tend to ignore it until it’s too late”.
Bobby is back to running his landscaping and gardening business and has not had a reoccurrence of the cancer and continues to go for check-ups. “Life is back to normal as it was pre-diagnosis,” he says.