“I thought I was strong but cancer made me feel suicidal. My friends helped me through my darkest days”
Originally published: 27 April 2018
- ‘My cancer made me feel less of a man’ — Using photos to illustrate their story, five men with cancer share the issues they dealt with and the people that helped them cope
- New stats from Macmillan Cancer Support show that the charity is less than half as likely to be contacted by men, than by women via their support lineᶦ
- Men are 22% more likely to get cancer than women with around 400 diagnosed every day in England. ᶦᶦ ᶦᶦᶦ
This month, Macmillan Cancer Support are once again launching their Just Say the Word campaign with the construction, home improvement, electrical and technology sectors, to encourage men with cancer to seek help. Benchmarx Kitchens and Joinery, CEF, ISG, Mace, Selco Builders Warehouse, telent Technology Services, Topps Tiles, Travis Perkins and Wolseley have joined with the charity to reach and empower men from across the UK to take control of their health and seek the support they need.
Macmillan knows that many men find it difficult to talk. New data revealed today shows that the charity was less than half as likely to receive a call from a man, than from a woman in 2017. This is even though, across the UK, men are 22% more likely to be diagnosed with cancer than women. In fact, new Macmillan analysis of ONS data reveals that over 400 men are diagnosed with cancer every day in England.
Macmillan says that talking is an important part of coping with cancer. The charity has worked with five men with cancer to create these personal images, raise awareness of cancer and inspire others to ask for help.
Craig Toley, 31, from London is a strong-man competitor. He was diagnosed with thyroid cancer when he was 29 years old. “I’ve always been a mentally tough, strong guy, but when cancer came, it broke me. My dad had Leukaemia many years before, and seeing what he had been through terrified me. I didn’t want my family to know how I felt because they all lived through it once before.
“When my treatment was nearing its end, I spiralled into a dark depression that I kept from everyone around me. I decided to host a charity strongman competition to focus on, but leading up to the competition I was breaking down crying and started to realize I needed help. At the competition, I was an emotional mess and had to ring one of my gym friends to help me get my head in a better place so I could actually compete. I remember seeing an interview with the singer Chester Bennington who committed suicide titled ‘Chester Bennington’s Cry for help’, it scared me when I could relate to every word he said.
“The owner of my gym got me back into training again slowly, after seeing the state I was in. He offered to start collecting me from home every day and put me through a gentle session as he knew it would mentally help and provide that sense of normality I was craving.
“If i was able to go back in time and speak to myself at the moment of diagnosis, I would encourage myself to cry. Cry for as long as I need to cry and to talk, talk to my family, talk to my friends and not to hold onto the emotion that almost pushed me to the edge.”
Paul Simpson, age 56, from County Durham, works for builders merchant Travis Perkins and was diagnosed with cancer when he was 54. “I was completely devastated and felt my world was falling apart. I’d had a little discomfort in my ear, so went to see my doctor who initially thought it was probably an infection. But it didn’t clear up and after further investigations I was told it was throat cancer. To be honest I was just in utter shock.
Treatment was one of the hardest times of my life. I’m a bloke so I’ve always tried to be strong, but emotionally I was struggling. It felt as though a black cloud was over my head.
“I wouldn’t have made it through without the help of those around me. Before I had cancer, I was also a Football League assistant referee. My colleagues and friends were so supportive and would check up on how I was doing regularly. My close family, son and partner were always there to help me take my medication and push me out of my darkest days. When I was recovering they would motivate me to get up and keep moving forward.”
Father-of-two Tom Ryan, 45, from Bedfordshire, works for Topps Tiles and was diagnosed with a rare form of Leukaemia when he was 42 years old. He says: “I was running the Dublin marathon when I first noticed something was amiss. I’d kept a really good level of fitness but kept getting infections and illnesses in the run up to the marathon. I knew I wasn’t right and getting around was a real struggle.
“I was initially diagnosed with tonsillitis, but the antibiotics didn’t cure it, so I was sent for a blood test. My GP called a few days later and told me to leave work immediately and go straight to the local hospital. After further blood tests, I was told I had Acute Myeloid Leukaemia which is a really rare form of white blood cell cancer. I’d never heard of Leukaemia and didn’t know that cancer of the blood even existed, but thankfully the information from the hospital and Macmillan soon helped me understand the severity of the illness and the treatments I’d be facing. After four months and two phases of chemotherapy, my blood cells didn’t recover, and my doctors advised that the best course of treatment was a stem cell transplant.
“Thankfully my older brother was a cell match and on his 45th birthday he donated his stem cells over the course of a couple of days, after which the cells were transfused into me. Not necessarily the birthday he’d planned for himself, but giving me another shot at life was without doubt the best present he’s ever given me.”
Denton Wilson, 63, is a personal trainer from South Yorkshire and has overcome prostate cancer. “Being diagnosed was a terrible blow, they told me my cancer could kill me in eight weeks. In the months beforehand, I had met my father for the first time, shortly before he died — also from prostate cancer.
“When I was going through treatment I felt useless, like I was less of a man. I was becoming depressed and just getting up in the morning was a struggle. I used to get myself up, sit in a chair looking out of the window and cry. I did that every morning.
When I was going through it, my mum, who used to be a nurse, was so supportive. I wish my friends had been more open to talking, but prostate cancer can be hard for a man. It can be very embarrassing to have these problems and many African men won’t consider getting checked or talking about it. We need to move past this way of thinking. I work as a personal trainer and I now use this as way to get men talking about cancer.”
Nev Cartwright, 51, is from West Yorkshire. A former construction worker he was diagnosed with lung cancer when he was 46. “I thought I was prepared for the worst, but when I was diagnosed it still came as a real shock. It was an incredibly frustrating time as I visited numerous doctors over several years before they confirmed it was cancer.
“From the frustration of diagnosis to the dreadful treatment I had, I don’t think I would have made it without the support of my friends. I’ve worked as a brick layer and a construction foreman, and I know a lot of guys find it hard to talk about anything serious to do with their health; but I was lucky that I had some wonderful friends that were there for me.
“The anger and the fear really took a toll, but I could confide in them, and they made sure I had everything I needed. We started going to lots of art galleries and similar places of interest. I was always into art before but rarely pursued it, I absolutely love it now.”
To help more men with cancer, Macmillan is bringing together nine of its partners from the construction, home improvement, electrical and technology sectors: Benchmarx Kitchens and Joinery, CEF, ISG, Mace, Selco Builders Warehouse, telent Technology Services, Topps Tiles, Travis Perkins and Wolseley, for their ‘Just Say the Word’ campaign. Through this, Macmillan hopes to reach and empower men across the UK to take control of their health and seek the support they need.
For more information about the campaign and the support services Macmillan Cancer Support is offering, visit Just Say the Word
Hard to talk about c____r? Just say the word.
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Notes to editors
For more information please contact:
Ed Grunill, Media & PR Officer, Macmillan Cancer Support.
Tel: 020 7091 2326 (out of hours 07801 307068)
About the ‘Construction Cancer Coalition’ partners
About Macmillan Cancer Support
There are 2.5 million people living with cancer in the UK. One in two people are likely to get cancer in their lifetimes. Cancer can affect everything, including a person’s body, relationships and finances.
Macmillan Cancer Support provides practical, emotional and personal support to people affected by cancer every year. The charity is there to support people during treatment, help with work and money worries, and listen when people need to talk about their feelings.
Macmillan receives no government funding and relies on generous donations from the public. People up and down the country show their support for Macmillan — from hosting or attending a World’s Biggest Coffee Morning to running a marathon or giving up alcohol — so the charity can help more and more people affected by cancer every year.
Life with cancer is still your life and Macmillan is there to help you live it. If you want information or just to chat, call 0808 808 00 00 (Monday to Friday, 9am–8pm) or visit www.macmillan.org.uk.
ᶦ Internal data. Statistics supplied from the Macmillan Support Line and figures from January 2016 until December 2017. In 2017 there were 19,235 calls from men and 45,439 calls from women to the Macmillan Support Line.
Macmillan Support Line is staffed by full members of staff and trained volunteers. The subject of the calls is logged based on human interpretation and is not audited.
N.B. There were some changes to the way data was collected in 2016 and 2017 which may explain some of this difference.
ᶦᶦ Percentage of the calculated proportion of cases of diagnosed cancer between the European age-standardised (AS) incidence rates per 100,000 population in males (668.3 per 100,000) and females (546.6 per 100,000) for all cancers excluding non-melanoma skin cancer (C00-C97 excl. C44) in the UK for 2015 published by Cancer Research UK, ‘Cancer incidence for all cancers combined’, accessed April 2018.
ᶦᶦᶦ Daily figure of over 400 cancer diagnoses in men a day based on dividing by 365 and rounding down the 155,019 yearly registrations of newly diagnosed cases of all cancers excluding non-melanoma skin cancer (nmsc) in males of all ages in England, for 2016. National Cancer Registration and Analysis Service within Public Health England; Office for National Statistics (2018) — Cancer registration statistics, England: first release, 2016, accessed April 2018.