One Army pilot’s breast cancer journey

June 7th, 2017

Unlike many Australians, Tim was well aware that men could get breast cancer.

He was just shy of 50 years old, married with three kids and employed as a helicopter pilot and Captain with the Australian Army’s 5th Aviation Regiment when he noticed a painless lump on the left side of his chest.

Due to his previous medical training as a patrol medic, he recognised that the lump had similar symptoms to breast cancer and saw a doctor immediately in 2010.

Though the doctor was doubtful, Tim insisted on an ultrasound and the specialist diagnosed the lump as muscle tissue. Tim was relieved but was now increasingly aware of his body.

A year later, Tim was attending a course in the US and noticed the lump had got bigger and his nipple was inverted. When he returned to Australia and revisited the doctor tests revealed that he did in fact have breast cancer, a type called estrogen receptor positive.

Referred to a surgeon, he underwent a treatment plan that included a sentinel node biopsy, a left mastectomy, removal of 14 lymph nodes followed by chemo and treatment for lymphoedema – a painful swelling in the arm.

Working in the Army for over thirty years, the Captain has put himself on the line in Afghanistan, Timor and Papua New Guinea but said his breast cancer diagnosis was far more worrying than life in a warzone.

“You can only do what you are dealt with, crack on with life, get as much information and deal with it as best you can.”

Though the Army placed him on unlimited leave, Tim said that psychologically he needed to keep busy, so he worked every three weeks in between his chemo sessions. He began regaining his fitness by swimming, running and climbing local hills regularly.

Today, Tim has been on tamoxifen (the treatment for his estrogen receptor positive breast cancer) for six years to stop his breast cancer returning, and still has four years to go. He is still flying for the Army and has retained his great sense of humour.

‘’I only have one breast, so I am really trying to keep ‘abreast’ of things in my life,’’ he jokes. 

Tim’s case has had a very positive outcome thanks mainly to his early detection of the tumour and his awareness that men can get breast cancer too.

In support of men like Tim, and all women affected by breast cancer, the National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF) is encouraging men to join Real Men Wear Pink and ‘Get Pinked’ during Men’s Health Week (June 12-18) and raise funds for life-changing breast cancer research.

Taking part in Real Men Wear Pink will help NBCF to fund breast cancer research. Real Men Wear Pink also highlights that breast cancer isn’t a women’s-only cancer; men can be diagnosed too.

As a speaker for NBCF, Tim feels strongly about raising awareness that breast cancer is not exclusively a woman’s disease.

 “I believe it’s important to share my experience with others. I’d like to help encourage early intervention by raising awareness of the disease, both in women and men, but especially in males.”

To support the 140 men diagnosed with breast cancer this year and the 44 women diagnosed today, register now to fundraise at realmenwearpink.org.au.