It may be one of the best-known forms of cancer, but Dave Agnew usually gets a double take when people hear about his illness.

In fact, many of his male friends refused to believe it.

Mr Agnew, 66, of Taupo, was last year diagnosed with breast cancer, a cancer better associated with women, of whom more than 2500 are diagnosed with the disease in New Zealand every year - along with 20 or so Kiwi men.

Mr Agnew discovered the hard, painless lump in his chest last year while showering.


"I was just soaping myself down and I felt this tiny lump just under my left nipple.

"It was about half the size of a dried pea.''

He did not believe men got breast cancer, so was surprised when an internet search revealed it as a possible reason for his lump.

Mr Agnew visited his GP who was also concerned, and ordered a mammogram and ultrasound, both of which were inconclusive.

He was treated the same way as any other patient with a breast lump, so the next stop was to see a breast surgeon, who did a needle biopsy, again with inconclusive results.

That led to a surgical biopsy, a day-stay operation where the lump was removed.

Two weeks later, Mr Agnew leaned he had breast cancer - ductal carcinoma in situ to be precise - which he says was the best diagnosis he could have had.

It meant the cancer was all in one place, and not thought to have spread, something he attributes to his and his doctors' quick follow-up.


In March last year, he had a mastectomy, where all the flesh on the left side of his chest was removed.

He spent four days in hospital recovering.

From there, he had to see an oncologist at Waikato Hospital, who recommended five weeks of radiotherapy.

The radiotherapy was painless but made Mr Agnew feel tired and has left a permanently darkened area on his chest.

As a Taupo resident, he spent the five weeks staying Monday to Friday at the Cancer Society's Lions Lodge in Hamilton, a free 55-room facility for out-of-town cancer patients undergoing cancer treatment.

It receives no direct government funding, yet provides accommodation and three meals a day for those using the lodge.

Each day, Mr Agnew would visit the hospital for his treatment and return to the lodge, where the desperately-ill condition of some residents made him realise how lucky he was.

"It's the most fantastic facility. It's my mission now to raise as much money for them as I possibly can.

"I don't have much, but I'm going to do things like collect on Daffodil Day and anything I can.''

That includes learning as much as he can about cancer and being upfront about it with people, many of whom think he is joking about having breast cancer.

"All my male friends, when I said `I've got breast cancer', thought I was having them on.''

Mr Agnew is still having regular follow-up checks with his surgeon and oncologist but says he considers himself cured.

The five-year survival rate for ductal carcinoma in situ is almost 100 per cent.

Male breast cancer mostly affects men from their mid-50s onwards and other men (or women) who discover a lump in their chest, or have a discharge from their nipple, should see their doctor.