Mark Collins

Breast cancer is seen as a woman’s disease, which is why it’s a shock when a man is diagnosed with it.  ASafe Director Mark Collins was one of them.

According to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, 1 in 725 men will develop breast cancer. While it accounts for less than 1% of all breast cancer diagnoses, its rareness makes it difficult to detect.

Common symptoms include a lump, thickening in breast tissue, changes to skin such as dimpling, puckering or redness and nipple changes including redness, scaling, inversion or discharge.

Collins noticed an inverted nipple, but thought it had been bumped while playing soccer. It wasn’t until he went to the GP for another matter that he mentioned it.  The 55-year-old was diagnosed last April, a few days before his birthday.

“The doctor actually said, ‘Look, I don’t think it’s anything to worry about’ but he sent me for an ultrasound. The results found there was blood supply to the lump and then I went on to have a mammogram and a biopsy,” Collins said. “The results came back positive and it had hotspots in there. So even though it was only a little lump it was quite aggressive. So that was on the Saturday, I got a phone call Sunday morning from the breast surgeon.”



Things moved quickly for Collins.

He was booked in for a mastectomy two weeks later, he delayed it a week for his daughter’s 21st birthday, and followed that up with chemotherapy.

The surgery confirmed the hotspots in the lump and although his lymph nodes were clear, there was a 5% chance the cancer had spread to his bloodstream so he had chemo.

Collins’s cancer was only stage one and hadn’t spread to the lymph nodes, so chemotherapy was optional.  “It was just precautionary. I didn’t have to have it, but you got to,” he said.

He had four rounds of chemo, three weeks apart.

Collins was grateful everything happened quickly. “You haven’t got time to ponder, that would be the worst,” he said. “It’s a roller coaster ride but I’ll tell you what, it’s what I prefer to be on. Everything happened bang-bang-bang.”


Going through chemotherapy

While he had the usual symptoms, such as hair loss and loss of appetite, he still worked throughout his treatment. He’d have chemo on Thursday, was given steroids to counteract its effects so he was good until Friday, then he’d crash. “It just feels like you’re full of energy and everything’s good, then Saturday you just go downhill but it’s enough that gets you through that little initial hit,” he said.

“So we’d go in on Thursday morning, at lunchtime. I would come home and work. I’d work Friday and then go to bed Friday night and wake up Monday morning.

“I’d never been so tired in my life. My wife would come up and poke me because she thought I was dead, she’d never seen me sleep so much. Then I had Sunday like that and it was kind of good on Monday. By Tuesday you can’t sleep because your body’s slept that much. “But I was going good because I went back to work Monday, worked the week and played soccer on Saturday. I was a bit tired Sunday.”

He chose to work because he needed a reason to get up in the morning. “I enjoy work at the moment. It’s killing me but I’m enjoying it,” he said. “What are you gonna do? Just watch TV? I can’t do that. In 10 years time I’ll be able to watch TV when I’m retired but not now. “You’ve gotta have a reason to get up and do something, you’ve gotta keep going. If not, what’s the point?”

On the Wednesday before each chemo session, he’d meet with his oncologist, Dr John Park. “You go and have blood tests to make sure your levels are back up and he would ask how I coped. I think I got off pretty lightly,” he said.

“I’d go in to see him with my wife and he’d say, ‘How did you go at soccer?’ and she’d go, ‘Aren’t we talking cancer’ and he’d say, ‘No we talk soccer first’ because he was playing soccer as well. I was the only patient he knew that played soccer between treatments.

“In the doctor’s surgery it was all ladies, I was sitting there and they probably thought I was such a good, supportive husband. When the doctor walked out and called my name they all looked up, because you wouldn’t expect a guy’s name to be called out.”


Collins didn’t have a problem moving around, but he lost his appetite because the medication made everything taste metallic. “I just worked normally. I just didn’t eat. I would come home, dinner would be sitting there and I’d just push it away and I was just having soup was soup for lunch and that was it,” he said. “I’d had a beer after soccer and it would sit there in my chest, for what felt like days so I didn’t drink. Even water tasted funny, somebody told me to add cordial and that took the metallic taste away.”

The after effects of breast cancer

Collins’s cancer was estrogen positive, which means he now takes an estrogen suppression drug called Tamoxifen to prevent a recurrence. In women, it creates a medically-induced menopause. Luckily for Collins, his symptoms are less severe.
“They said I could get hot flushes, I could become more emotional and a whole list of things but the only thing that’s changed is my skin feels soapy,” he said. “It feels different, like you’ve got a layer of soap on after a shower.”

What surprised Collins is that the fatigue from chemo is still going a year on.
“I can have days where I can just be flat. It passes the next day or the day after. Sometimes I can be sitting there on a Saturday and have to go down for an afternoon snooze,” he said. “My body’s still trying to get over it.”

There is no history of breast cancer in Collins’ family. But the 55 year old is waiting on results of genetic testing to see if he carries the BRCA gene, which increases the risk of breast cancer. “If I’m a carrier, I can get my kids Pat and Sarah checked to see if they’ve got the gene. And my brothers too, because Mum and Dad didn’t die from breast cancer,” he said. “If I haven’t got the BRCA gene, this is just bad luck.”

Sharing his story to raise awareness of male breast cancer

Collins is remarkably matter-of-fact about what he went through.
“My wife actually took it harder than me, she said it should have been her because she’s female,” he said. “It is what it is, I just said let’s go and get it cut out and get on with it.”

“My kids were sad. It still rattles my daughter, she wants to know why it happened. Especially when you live a half-decent lifestyle, you think what did you do wrong? But it is what it is, you can’t do anything about it.”

The mastectomy means Collins has a scar across his right chest, but he isn’t bothered about the lost nipple because the hair has grown back. “It was just a bit of meat. If it was a testicle or something I’d probably be more emotional than that. But they just had to cut something out, that’s the way I looked at it,” he said.

Collins’s diagnoses is so rare that when he went to get a new Tamoxifen prescription, the GP wanted to discuss it with him, “She gave me a strange look and asked me why I was on it. She looked at my file and wanted to ask me some questions, because she’d never met a male with breast cancer,” he said.

He is sharing his story because he wants other men to be aware that it could also happen to them. “There’d be a lot of men that read this magazine,” he said.  “I told the guys from soccer as soon as I was diagnosed and they said, ‘Oh, we don’t even check.’ They were thankful I told them what happened.

“One life is all it’s gotta save. If you woke up and your nipple was inverted you wouldn’t think anything of it, but now you know to check it out. “I’m hoping some good will come out of it.”


Story Credit: Scott Filby and Industry Update Magazine – Mark Collins had breast cancer, he wants more men to be aware it could happen to them | Industry Update Manufacturing Media

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