This Is What Eastenders’ Male Breast Cancer Storyline Means To Real-Life Patients

If you’re watching EastEnders, you’ll see that Stuart Highway has been struggling with breast cancer.

Creators of the long-standing TV show wanted to shine a spotlight on male breast cancer and actor Ricky Champ, who plays Stuart, has been consulting with real-life victims to gain insight into the role.

Before the storyline kicked off, Champ met with Doug Harper, 61, from London, who was diagnosed with the condition in 2011.

Just before Christmas, Harper felt a lump on his left nipple which he presumed was a cyst and continued to ignore ‘as blokes do’, he says.

After showing the nipple to a GP, they sent him to hospital and ran tests on Harper, sadly confirming that it was cancer.

“As soon as I showed the nipple to the GP, their demeanour changed immediately and they booked an urgent appointment at the hospital for it to be checked out,” Harper tells HuffPost UK.

“Being told I had breast cancer was a scary and confusing time, not only for me, but also for my friends and family. But everyone was so supportive, some even made light hearted comments about the news to lift the gloom, something they knew I would appreciate.“

Just like Stuart on the soap, one of the reasons Harper felt confused was because he didn’t think it could be breast cancer as it’s not spoken about as much in men as women.

When the oncologist told him he had cancer he says he doesn’t remember anything else apart from asking if he was going to die – he was told hopefully that wouldn’t be the case.

Since having chemotherapy treatment, Harper has become passionate about raising awareness of the condition and informing people that it can happen to anyone, regardless of gender. He is also part of a male cancer support group that he attends monthly.

So when EastEnders came to him to ask about his experience, Harper was glad for the opportunity.

Doug has been consulting Eastenders actor Ricky Champ for the storyline

He tells HuffPost: “Ricky was brilliant. While he’s been playing the part, he’s identified the problems that men with breast cancer can get, he just really embraced it. He came along to our group support meeting, and it was uplifting because we need more publicity for men with breast cancer.

“The storyline was really subtle, Stuart’s experience of first getting diagnosed was very similar to ours, being in denial, not thinking it was happening and the shock that comes with it.”

Harper mentions that the soap accurately showed how alienating the condition can be as Stuart is handed two leaflets of support for breast cancer patients – but in both, women are pictured.

Doug has set up a male group support for cancer patients
Doug has set up a male group support for cancer patients

Harper, who has since had chemotherapy, is in a band called Steve White & the Protest Family and has written a song about encouraging people to ‘check their moobs’.

He hopes more men will check themselves, saying: “Just know that men can get it. So, check your nipples, check under your arms. And if anything looks different, it could be a cyst or what looks like a cyst on your nipple, it could be a rash, an inverted nipple, or something else under your arms, if you see it, go straight to your doctor.”

He has also been working with Macmillan Cancer support. The charity’s strategic advisor for treatment, Dany Bell, who has more than 30 years’ experience working as a cancer nurse, added: “Nearly 400 men are diagnosed with breast cancer every year in the UK. But we know it’s still not something that is widely recognised or known by many people.

“Storylines like Stuart’s in TV shows like EastEnders play such a vital role in helping to raise awareness and to make more people aware of the signs of breast cancer in both men and women. Early diagnosis can improve – and even save lives – and we hope this important plot will get more men regularly check their own chests and reaching out for help, if needed.”

If you’re living with cancer and need to speak to people, about the big things and small things, you can contact Macmillan Cancer Support.

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