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South Shields man tells of beating rare cancer - and fundraising to help others

Billy Skipper fundraising
Billy Skipper fundraising

A father has told of the shocking moment he was diagnosed with breast cancer - and has urged other men to look out for signs of the disease.

Billy Skipper, 57, of South Shields, received the potentially life-changing news in February 2016 after discovering a lump which turned out to be the size of a pea.

Billy Skipper at the Boxing Day dip

Billy Skipper at the Boxing Day dip

Fast diagnosis and treatment meant that he received the all-clear just weeks later, with early detection proving to be key for the dad-of-one, who lives with wife Karen and son Paul, 16.

Breast cancer is extremely rare in males, with just 400 men a year diagnosed with the disease in the UK, according to Cancer Research UK, compared to about 55,000 women.

But IT worker Billy, of Central Avenue, says it is vital men look out for the symptoms - and do something about it if they find anything untoward.

He said: “I found the tiniest of lumps in one of my breasts, which turned out to be only a quarter of an inch in size.

Billy Skipper breast cancer awareness ahead of St Claire's Hospice Boxing Day Dip

Billy Skipper breast cancer awareness ahead of St Claire's Hospice Boxing Day Dip

“I thought I was being on the soft side at first when I went to the doctor about it.

“Within five days of seeing him, though, he had me with a specialist and various tests were done, before I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“It was a big shock, but I was lucky, because the early diagnosis and treatment I had meant it didn’t have the chance to spread.”

Billy was treated at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, in Gateshead, where a mastectomy was performed to remove the affected breast.

Two days later, he received the all-clear, with no radiotherapy or chemotherapy required. He added: “What saved me from any further treatment and complications was the fact it was found so early and I did something about it.

“Men don’t have such a good survival rate, because they don’t tend to do anything about it until it’s too late, and there’s not as much flesh there so it gets into the bones quicker.

“If you find a lump anywhere, don’t sit looking at it or feeling it. Get to a doctors.

“Males don’t really look for it, but it does happen and it’s something to look out for. That’s how it becomes a killer in men.” Before being diagnosed with breast cancer, Billy had raised thousands of pounds for St Clare’s Hospice over the years by taking part in Boxing Day dips in South Shields.

He also helped to raise £10,000 for St Clare’s in 2014 when he took part in a bike ride from Lands End in Cornwall, to John O’Groats in the north east of Scotland.

He is set to participate in the Boxing Day dip event for the 14th time this year following his own battle with cancer. He added: “I’ve been rather successful over the years at raising money, so kept being invited back every year. I had some great times.

“I had hung my fancy dress suit up after the 13th year and moved on, but I’m going to go back and give it another try this year.

“As well as persuading people to sponsor me, it gets harder and harder to find a different fancy dress suit each year, so if anyone has any ideas or costumes in an extra-large size I can borrow, please get in touch.”

To support Billy by way of sponsorship or fancy dress costumes, email him at bill.skipper@btinternet.com.

St Clare’s Boxing Day Dip takes place at Little Haven beach, South Shields, at noon on Tuesday