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Cancer can’t be beaten – you have to learn to live with it.

Stanislav Václavík

I had always thought breast cancer was an illness only affecting women.

I was 43 when I found a lump in my chest. I first put it down to the fact that I did hard manual work. But then the skin on my palms started peeling, I felt sick, and had frequent high temperatures. And that lump did not go away. When I went to my doctor, she told me that she would not do anything about it. In the end I managed to get a biopsy done and heard the verdict “breast cancer” from the lips of the shocked doctors. This was a devastating piece of news. Until then, I had always considered breast cancer as something that only affected women.

The worst time was during the hormonal treatment. It was five years of hell on earth. The treatment for breast cancer in men is the same as that for women. This meant that the hormonal treatment flooded my body with female hormones. On top of that I also suffered from other problems like Barrett’s oesophagus and Crohn’s disease. Yet what I found most difficult was the change in my psychological state. My personality changed. Formerly a naturally cheerful person, I became a walking wreck just trying to survive what was going on inside me. I was intolerable. My wife bore it all bravely. I sometimes even thought about ending my suffering myself.

The reaction at my place of work surprised me. My colleagues began acting as if they were afraid of me. They did not know how to act towards me – whether they should feel sorry for me, what they should say to me. My boss resolved it simply – he shook my hand, hoped that “I would beat it” and, most importantly, that “they would cope” – meaning the people going through this with me. It was only later that I understood what he meant.

Don’t let your thoughts dwell on the fear of dying. Think of something that makes you happy instead.

Cancer can’t be beaten – I had to learn to live with it. And I had to teach those around me to live with me – to accept me with my illness and to see in me the person I was before my illness. I told myself that if others do not understand, then there is no point wasting time on them. They cannot understand what I am going through or what my dear ones are going through.

It is my partner who helps me cope with my illness. She is a genuinely fantastic woman who knows that I sometimes need to make excuses and sometimes swear to find some relief. And she patiently endures it all. Her wonderful help inspired me to write a book I called “Together”, which has been published by the Alliance of Women with Breast Cancer.

I like to unwind by working on the garden, doing DIY, and taking care of our 18 cats.

I know that death will come.

12 years after my first diagnosis the cancer attacked a lung, then metastasis spread to my other lung. Although the doctors offered me treatment, they did not tell me why they had selected the specific type in particular. This form of communication does not suit me. I think that a patient needs to believe that the treatment method the doctors have chosen is the correct one and that it will help them. I am also in favour of telling patients the truth.

Death may come tomorrow, next week, next month, or in a year’s time. Yet it will come. Patients therefore deserve respect, love, care, and the attention of society. Our greatest strength lies within us and in our surroundings. We are the only ones who can fight the illness – indeed, it’s actually all up to us alone. And even if the Grim Reaper still takes us away, at least we can feel that we did everything we could to get better.

What makes me angry

Don’t feel sorry for us. It’s not what we want. We need to hear, “We want you here with us”.

Message to patients

Try to ignore what you are fighting and focus on something you love, at least for some time. Then you will forget you are ill and can enjoy the pain-free time while it lasts.

Message to the public

We are people just like you. Accept us how we are. We are in pain, we are suffering. Yet we are still people. Don’t look at us as if we don’t belong here. You never know when you might get ill yourself. When you help the patient community, you are also helping yourself.