Men are less than half as likely as women to ask for help when they are diagnosed with cancer, according to the charity Macmillan. Craig Toley was 29 when he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer but didn’t talk about it until after he’d fallen into a deep depression.
“I remember when I got diagnosed I went to work straight from the doctor’s surgery and did a full day’s work.
“I didn’t talk to anyone I think for maybe three or four months.”
Craig, who is from Northolt, was diagnosed two years ago.
After almost losing his dad to leukaemia when he was younger, Craig didn’t want to talk about his diagnosis, partly to protect his parents and partly “that old guy thing of, ‘Oh you know, I’ll be fine.’
“I didn’t talk about personal stuff. I didn’t believe I should talk about how I felt and I found out that was completely the wrong thing to do.”
Macmillan says its analysis of ONS data shows 400 men a day are diagnosed with cancer in England.
And while men are 22% more likely to get cancer, they are also 45% more likely than women to die from cancer, it says.
The charity is urging men to talk more in order to alleviate anxiety and fear.
Previous Macmillan Cancer Support research shows that 49% of men diagnosed with cancer experienced anxiety during treatment and 25% felt depressed when they were diagnosed.
They say it’s crucial that men ask for help before they reach this crisis point.
‘An absolute mess’
Craig, who is a weightlifter and strongman, decided to cope with his diagnosis in a practical way.
He organised a charity truck-pulling competition to give him something to focus on after his radiotherapy. But it didn’t work out in the way he expected.
“Leading up to the event, I realised I was in trouble and I realised I wasn’t in a good place mentally…. I was breaking down and crying all the time.
“I remember at work I would go and sit in an office on my own and cry and I didn’t really know why I was doing it but I couldn’t stop myself from crying.”
On the day of the competition he was “in bits” and had to get his family to organise and run it.
“I was hiding at the back of the gym. I was sitting on an Atlas Stone with my hood up crying my eyes out – I was an absolute mess.”
He called a friend and he managed to calm him down.
“From that point I realised that I can’t deal with cancer how I’ve been dealing with issues my entire life. I can’t push it to the back of my head and tap into it when I need to get myself through something painful like lifting.”
While this was a breakthrough, he found this was just the first step in his recovery.
Despite thinking he was coping, he fell into a deep depression when he had to have the three tests needed to find out whether he had the all-clear.
“I didn’t realise how much this was going to affect me because over three weeks, you’ve got three tests and each one could have told me you still have cancer.
“And this absolutely destroyed me – again I was crying all the time – I didn’t know how to deal with this.”
He didn’t tell his parents because he didn’t want them to go through it but he also didn’t want to deal with his cancer the way his father had.
“I wanted to learn from his mistakes in terms of how he’s dealt with it – he didn’t deal with it – today even when anything to do with cancer comes on TV we change the channel.
“I wanted to properly beat it, I didn’t want to just get better.”
‘Talk… cry your eyes out’
At the time of the final test, he saw an interview with Chester Bennington, the singer from Linkin Park who killed himself, and it scared him when he found he could relate to every word he said.
After that he booked into see a psychiatrist at the London Oncology Clinic as an “absolute babbling mess”.
“That massively, massively saved me,” he said.
He recommends that anyone dealing with cancer should talk to friends but also to someone professional – someone who has had experience of dealing with people going through or who have gone through cancer.
“It helps so much, I can’t emphasise that enough.”
His best advice for other men dealing with cancer is to open up.
“Talk, cry, sit down and cry your eyes out and don’t care who you cry in front of – you need to let it out – it’s not a good thing to hold on to.
“I didn’t talk about personal stuff – I didn’t believe I should talk about how I felt – and I found out that was the wrong thing to do.
“Now I cry all the time – everyone who knows me has seen me cry at some point, but I feel good.”