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Luke is 34 and lives in Basildon, Essex. He was diagnosed with advanced bowel cancer when he was just 27 after putting off going to the doctor for nearly six months. Here he reflects on the time up to his diagnosis, and shares his advice for how to support a mate going through cancer.
I’m a typical ‘man’s man’ in many ways, but especially when it comes to my health. I don’t like making a fuss. This was definitely the case when I started getting a niggling stomach pain, back in the summer of 2007. I put it down to a dodgy kebab, pushed it to the back of my mind and soldiered on. But the pain kept getting that little bit worse, until before I knew it, six months had passed and I was in agony.
My girlfriend Lisa (now my wife) kept on at me to go to the doctors for probably four or five months. Eventually, she took matters into her own hands, and she made me a doctor’s appointment herself. It really did take her to do that, before I would even think about going. When I walked into the surgery, my doctor immediately said I’d lost a lot of weight, which I honestly hadn’t even noticed. I was referred quickly, and then after some tests, I got the news that I had bowel cancer.
I guess I should have gone to the doctors earlier, but I was brought up amongst typically masculine men and that definitely rubbed off on me. I guess if I had gone sooner, it might have been easier to deal with. But I had delayed for so long that by the time I got my diagnosis, I wasn’t surprised that it was stage four and that meant it was terminal. I almost felt quite blasé as it wasn’t a shock. But my family cried a lot – I was only 27 years old.
It doesn’t surprise me that Macmillan’s new research shows men are putting off reporting symptoms like lumps and pain because they don’t know how to talk about them or because they feel too embarrassed. I know from experience that it can be really tough for men to talk about health worries and especially cancer – it’s partly what stopped me.
Sadly when I was diagnosed, lots of my friends abandoned me. I think one of them was scared because his mum had previously had cancer, but the rest just didn’t know how to address it so they didn’t try. Either that or they just didn’t know enough about it and maybe they thought they could catch it from me. Luckily I had a really supportive family, and I proposed to Lisa soon after I was diagnosed. But it doesn’t take away the pain of losing some of your mates.
But one friend who was brilliant was my mate Keith. He just acted like a normal person. Loads of people look at you like you’re contagious, like if they look at you too long they’re going to catch it or something. Keith just said, “Do you fancy a game of pool?”, “Fancy going to the pub?”, “Let’s get out of the house” – he didn’t treat me any differently. That’s all you want. Keith just looked at me like I was a normal person.
The main thing I’d say is don’t look at me (or anyone living with cancer) like they’re an injured animal. Treat them the same as you did before. Of course cancer changes you, but you’re still the same person. Talk about football, go out into town, get a KFC (I always had a KFC on a Tuesday, it was my thing that made me feel normal).
From this whole experience I’ve learnt that talking to people, making them feel normal, is so important. So if you’ve got a mate who’s going through it at the moment, reach out to them and let them know you’re there to listen if they want to talk. But make sure they know that you’re also there to have a game of pool if that’s all they want to do.
Luke is supporting Macmillan Cancer Support’s men’s health awareness campaign Don’t Let Cancer Ruin Your Foundations, in association with Macmillan’s partners in the building and construction sector - Travis Perkins, Benchmarx Kitchens & Joinery, Kier Group, Costain, Selco Builders Warehouse and Wolseley UK. For more information visit www.macmillan.org.uk/checkup
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Hi Luke - I see you're seven years on (?) from diagnosis - that's brilliant. I'd love to hear more of your story. I decided only to tell my family and certain friends. I was never 'out there' about my diagnosis, which for me meant I could get on with things without people constantly asking how I was. I know it's different for everyone, but that's what helped me.
Hi Luke my daughter was diagnosed with bowel, liver and ovarian cancer. She was lucky all her friends have rallied round. It is very important to try and live as normal as possible. It is not always easy and very distressing for loved ones at times and very important to talk about it for us. We haven,t tried to hide it but friends are very important for keeping moral up. We have tried to be positive and so far things are going well. The specialists and medical staff on the whole have been very honest and helpful. I hope things work out well for you but it's times like this when you find out who you can rely on when things get bad
Hi Luke, I hope you are doing well.
My partner of 23 years was officially diagnosed with oesophageal cancer a little over 2 weeks ago. Our lives have been in turmoil for the past 4 weeks. The mental trauma is truly unbelielable.
I have found it comforting talking to my friends and family and talk about it openly. Some people like to avoid you as they dont know what to say. On the other hand people who you would never have expected it from are being really supportive.
Now we know that Chris will start his chemoradiotherapy in 3 weeks time, we feel we have a goal to achive.
Together we can beat this. I wish you every luck in your journey.
Love and best wishes
Vicki & Chris X
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