A dad-of-two who made history when he fought to receive a breast cancer drug only available to women is now battling the disease for a third time – despite having a mastectomy more than a decade ago.
Now, Stuart is battling lung cancer after a persistent cough turned out to be a symptom of the disease returning.
Twelve years ago his first diagnosis was confirmed after his wife, Karen, also 48, felt a lump near his nipple on the left side of his chest, while lying in bed.
Initially, Stuart ignored the pea-sized lump, thinking that men couldn’t suffer from breast cancer.
But on Karen’s advice, he visited his local GP in Maidstone, Kent, who referred him to hospital.
At Maidstone Hospital, he was given a mammogram, scans and biopsies and was subsequently diagnosed with stage two breast cancer, which was HER2 positive.
This means the tumour contained a protein which can affect the growth of some cancer cells – and so could be treated with the drug Herceptin.
Herceptin works by attaching itself to the HER2 receptors on the surface of breast cancer cells and blocking them from receiving growth signals.
It is used to prolong life in HER2 positive breast cancer patients.
He recalled: “I was so shocked. I was young, healthy and – crucially – a man.
“I couldn’t understand how a lump had turned out to be cancer.
“To learn it has struck again, 12 years on, is just devastating.”
When he was first diagnosed in early 2005, Stuart had chemotherapy and a mastectomy, to remove his left breast.
However, he was shocked to be refused treatment with Herceptin by his private insurer, because he was a man.
Stuart appealed to his local NHS trust, Maidstone and Weald, and in May 2006, following a panel discussion with the trust, learned they would fund a £20,000 course of the drug.
According to Stuart, thanks in part to the Herceptin he received, he recovered and months later went into remission from the cancer – remaining healthy until around 2012.
He said: “It was a wonderful feeling. For six years I was healthy and I really appreciated it, but it wasn’t to last.”
Sadly, in 2012 he was diagnosed with HER2 positive breast cancer for a second time.
This time, he had a secondary primary cancer in his sternum.
He said: “The cancer was still treated as breast cancer, but had spread to my breast bone.
“I couldn’t understand it after so long of being clear.
“Also, I had always been healthy, never smoked. There didn’t seem any reason for it. Just bad luck.”
Referred to Guy’s Hospital in central London, he had surgery to remove his sternum, or breast bone.
For two weeks he stayed in hospital, before undergoing more rounds of chemotherapy and receiving more Herceptin.
Then, in 2013, he went back to work – and life resumed as normal.
But it wasn’t to last, as in January this year a routine cough turned out to be much more serious.
Karen, who has given up her job to care for Stuart, explained: “The whole family had a cough over the summer last year.
“It lasted for weeks and we were all suffering. We didn’t think anything of it.”
However, Stuart’s cough wasn’t just a summer cold, it was much more serious.
A scan at Maidstone Hospital indicated he had secondary cancer again – this time in his lungs.
Karen added: “There were nodules in his lungs which were cancerous.
“Now he is back having chemotherapy and Herceptin and we are just waiting and seeing.
“But we know for certain he will have Herceptin for the rest of his life – every three weeks.”
Karen said their sons Josh, now 19, and James, now 21, have had their lives blighted by cancer.
She continued: “Our boys were only 11 and eight when they first heard my husband had breast cancer and they are grown up now.
“It’s hard to understand as Stuart was only 35, healthy and fit with no family history.”
Deeply proud of the courage with which her husband has faced his illness, Karen said information for male breast cancer patients is woefully inadequate.
She said: “The shock and fear was indescribable, but the lack of practical information for male sufferers was pathetic.
“All info was about bras, make-up, implants and wigs for women only. They didn’t even have a picture of a male mastectomy to show men the outcome of their operation, but a whole book was available for women.
“Stuart has battled to change this and I am so proud of him.”
Breast cancer is often thought of as a condition that only affects women, but men can also develop it.
It’s much less common in men than women, with only around on new case of breast cancer diagnosed for every 100,000 men – about 350 to 400 cases – in the UK each year.
The cancer develops in the small amount of breast tissue men have behind their nipples.
The most common symptom is a hard, painless lump in one of the breasts.