Sidmouth pair talk cancer

AS Breast Cancer Awareness month gets underway and Sidmouth looks ahead to its Paint the Town Pink event in aid of Cancer Research UK on Friday, October 15, Herald reporter Ellen Cook talks to two residents with first-hand experience of breast cancer.

SIDMOUTH business owner Ann Down has remained enviably positive throughout her breast cancer experience. The 66-year-old who runs Feathers in High Street with her husband Gordon was diagnosed five years ago when she visited the mobile screening van.

“I nearly didn’t go because we were so busy in the shop, but I’m so glad I did,” she said. “When it comes to their health, nobody should ever be too busy.”

Following a mammogram and biopsy, she underwent a lumpectomy at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital. This was followed by eight weeks of chemotherapy then a course of radiotherapy.

“Throughout the treatment it was like, ‘come on, let’s get this over and done with’,” said Ann. “The chemo just drained me, I didn’t feel there was anything left, but the radiotherapy I coped with a lot better. On the good days, when I was able to work in the shop, people said they couldn’t tell there was anything wrong. On the bad days I just stayed upstairs.”

One of the side effects of the treatment was hair loss. Ann decided to make the most of this by having three wigs, including one for work and one for socialising.

As she was being picked up by friends one night to go out, a seagull dive bombed her, ruining her headpiece.

Most Read

“I dashed upstairs and changed wigs,” she said. “My friends’ faces as they watched from the car were priceless, because within 30 seconds I was back down, sporting another pristine hair do.”

Ann was put on anti-cancer drug Tamoxifen for two-and-a-half years, then took part in clinical trial of Exemestane, taking her final tablet in August. She has been given the five-year all-clear following a mammogram.

Indicative of her optimistic outlook throughout her treatment, she said: “The best news is I can now have my varicose veins done; they wouldn’t let me while I was on the drugs.”

WHILE breast cancer in men is very rare, it does happen, as Sidmouth resident Tim Royston discovered in early 2009.

There are about 300 men diagnosed each year in the UK, compared with more than 45,500 women. That’s about one man for every 150 women diagnosed.

Tim, 43, of Elysian Fields, found a lump and made an appointment at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital. Within four weeks he was having a biopsy.

“I knew it was something that needed attention,” he said. “I’m very physically aware, which is why I found it in the first place. While I was waiting for the biopsy it was quite nervewracking, but it gets worse when you get the diagnosis.”

The initial diagnosis had been a benign (non-cancerous) fibroadenoma, but RD&E consultant Julie Dunn realised it was something more serious. “I just sank behind my eyes, you go into yourself,” said Tim, who has three sisters and is a twin. “I told my youngest sister on the phone, she was crying and that set me off.”

In May 2009 Tim, who worked in sales and marketing for Avanti Communications but is now training to become a counsellor, had the operation to remove the ductal carcinoma.

“I spent five days in hospital and it was an amazing time, for the standard of care I received,” he said. “You realise how lucky you are to live in a country with this level of treatment.”

Three months of chemotherapy took their toll in terms of tiredness.

“I never thought I could sleep so much,” said Tim, who was then put on a course of the drug Herceptin. Speaking on Monday, Tim was booked into hospital to have excess glands removed from his other breast on Wednesday. “It’s so I don’t have to worry about the cancer coming back in the future,” he said.