Des Callaghan, the first male to be featured On The Chemo Couch, tells us how 25 years in the police service helped him win the battle against male breast cancer and a major heart bypass.
Desmond Callaghan (71) lives in Hilton, KwaZulu-Natal. He has four children (raised six) and five grandchildren.
Diagnosed at 50
On 4 February 1997, a 2,1 x 1,1 cm tumour was surgically removed along with Des’ right breast. He presented with breast cancer symptoms but at the time he didn’t know what those were.
Des explains, “I always felt tired. I had a lump under my armpit and a nipple discharge that left wet patches on my shirts. There was also a lump around my nipple that was extremely painful when touched or bumped. One day I got out the shower and saw that my right nipple was inverted. I became worried and started to put two and two together.”
In the space of four days, several tests, a biopsy and a mastectomy took place.
Taking on the fight
The father of six had months of chemotherapy, six weeks of daily radiotherapy which resulted in a large burn on his scar. “Each month I would have about five small packets of what I called ‘high octane chemo’ – one packet looked like petrol. I received all of these on the same day. Each Wednesday I had eight white tablets (Smarties size) and on Fridays I had four small yellow tablets that knocked me for a six,” Des recalls.
“I remember the first time I had chemo – as it was entering the veins in my body, it was not a good feeling. I was sick for a few months. Everything tasted like iron; I ate with a plastic spoon and consumed lots of yoghurt. I had sores in my mouth and nose and most of my hair fell out, but I knew I was in a fight to survive.”
How did the 50 year old get through it? “I was in the South African Police Service for 25 years, and I left in 1995 with the rank of Major. In 1984, on my officers’ course, one lecture was on discipline. The lecturer said, “What is discipline? It is the condition of the mind and a habit of obedience.” I got my mind right and took on the fight.
The thorn amongst the roses
As a man, Des had no problem with having breast cancer. Although he does admit he had particular funny times, at the oncology unit, while having chemo along side the ladies and listening to their stories
Telling his family
Des explains that his family took the news of his diagnosis well once he explained it to them. “I said the cancer had been cut out and destroyed,” he adds. “Having a first class GP, a first class surgeon and a first class oncologist, and my Lord who was guiding them (I’m an Irish Catholic boy) assisted in my victory.”
Male breast cancer ambassador
Des subsequently become involved with CANSA, doing numerous talks, however, presently he is not as active. “I do try and let people know that I am a male breast cancer survivor. I am still proud to walk on the beach with my scar. People have come up to me and asked if my scar was due to breast cancer. As far as I am concerned it’s my battle scar and I won the battle. And, I am still going strong 21 years later.”
Not only has Des faced male breast cancer but also prevailed a major heart bypass operation in 2007. He attributes his long life to have never smoked and having not retired yet. He still works a full eight hour day as an electrical contractor and manages a large building site in Hilton. The breast cancer survivor also eats good healthy food and lives a full life.
MEET OUR EXPERT – Laurelle Williams
Laurelle Williams is the Editor at Word for Word Media. She graduated from AFDA with a Bachelor of Arts Honours degree in Live Performance. She has a love for storytelling and sharing emotions through the power of words. Her aim is to educate, encourage and most of all show there is always hope. email@example.com