Damian O’Malley never thought he would find himself asking a mate to assess a lump in his breast after a few beers. But that decision saved him.
Damian O’Malley never thought he would find himself asking a mate to assess a lump in his breast after a few beers. But that decision saved him.

‘Guys get breast cancer too’

DAMIAN O'Malley is a bloke's bloke.

The Lara train driver has a passion for motorbikes and a larrikin nature.

He never thought he would find himself asking a mate to assess a lump in his breast after a few beers.

Mr O'Malley, 56, first noticed a lump under his nipple when wiping his sweaty hands on his shirt after a You Yangs hike in February, 2018.

"Blokes being blokes, I thought it'll be right, it'll go away," Mr O'Malley said.

Weeks later, he was on a weekend away near the Grampians, enjoying a late lunch and a few beers.

With the help of some liquid courage, he asked his mate to check out the growth.

"I said, 'can I ask you a favour mate, can you feel my boob?'," Mr O'Malley recalled.

"I explained to him about the lump so he copped a grope."

The friend urged Mr O'Malley to tell his wife Tracey and a doctor.

Mr O'Malley kept quiet for weeks after his return home, but the lump was beginning to get to him.

Damian O'Malley. Picture: Alan Barber
Damian O'Malley. Picture: Alan Barber

In May, months after he first identified it, he showed Mrs O'Malley.

Alarmed, she immediately called a local medical clinic.

In a matter of days it was confirmed that Mr O'Malley had stage-three breast cancer.

"It was like the world landed on me," he said.

"As soon as the doctor said the biopsy came back positive for cancer, I fell in on myself."

In June, Mr O'Malley underwent a mastectomy at Geelong hospital on the breast affected by invasive ductal carcinoma - the most common form of breast cancer.

He met McGrath Foundation breast care nurse Sue Bowles before his surgery, and she helped guide him through the daunting process.

Ms Bowles told the Geelong Advertiser male breast cancer is not common.

"Over 19,000 people will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year (in Australia) but just 164 of them will be men, in the Geelong area we have one to two men face this diagnosis each year," she said.

After the mastectomy, she would drain the fluid that Mr O'Malley was accumulating due to lymph nodes being removed in the surgery.

"She was poking a syringe into my chest and drawing out three coffee cups of fluid," Mr O'Malley said.

Mr O'Malley's surgeon told him the surgery had successfully removed the cancer, and he underwent chemotherapy which is given to reduce risk of it returning or spreading.

He also met with geneticists, and testing revealed he was positive for BRCA2 mutation.

Mr O'Malley's 19-year-old daughter tested positive too.

Harmful mutations of BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 genes increase the risks of multiple cancers.

He knew "nothing" about the BRCA gene, but was aware it had impacted Hollywood star Angelina Jolie.

Jolie, who carries the BRCA1 gene mutation, famously underwent a preventive double mastectomy.

After the testing Mr O'Malley had his remaining breast removed as a preventive measure last year.

He is cancer-free but continues taking a hormone-blocking medication.

Now, the words 'never give up' and pink and purple ribbons - symbolising breast cancer and survival - are proudly tattooed across Mr O'Malley's chest.

"It was a hell of an experience you wouldn't wish on anyone but I'm very grateful for all of my medical team," he said.

McGrath Foundation breast care nurse Sue Bowles. Picture: Alison Wynd
McGrath Foundation breast care nurse Sue Bowles. Picture: Alison Wynd

Ms Bowles is one of two McGrath breast care nurses at Barwon Health.

"I provide free physical, clinical and psychosocial support from the time of diagnosis and throughout their treatment at University Hospital Geelong and the Andrew Love Cancer Centre," Ms Bowles said.

She said Mr O'Malley was a "very grounded" person who dealt with his diagnosis and treatment extremely well.

"As breast cancer is thought of as a female cancer it can be hard for men to talk about having breast cancer," she said.

"Thankfully in the last few years we have resources available specifically for men with breast cancer, previously we only had pink resources aimed at women.

"Gradually there has been more discussion in the breast cancer awareness presentations that breast cancer can affect men and we need to keep getting this message out to the public."

Mr O'Malley lauded Ms Bowles - not just as a nurse, but also as a confidant.

Today, he will share his story at Lara Cricket Club for Pink Stumps Day.

Cricket legend and McGrath Foundation co-founder and president Glenn McGrath, whose late wife Jane battled breast cancer, will visit Lara and Geelong City Cricket Clubs.

Both are holding Pink Stumps Day matches and won a competition, selected from hundreds of entries nationwide, to receive a visit from McGrath.

The matches raise funds to fundraise for the McGrath Foundation and to support more McGrath breast care nurses like Ms Bowles.

Mr O'Malley said he believed there was a lack of awareness around breast cancer in males.

"When it first happened, I was a bit embarrassed, thinking gee, I'm just going to get ribbed over having man boobs," he said.

"It was a bit of an eye opener.

"Most people are surprised blokes get breast cancer.

"Everybody knows somebody that's had breast cancer whether they're male or female."