Mathew Walton was aged just 28 when he discovered a pea-sized lump on his chest.
Despite initially being told it was nothing to worry about, it turned out to be male breast cancer.
Four years after the rare diagnosis – just 370 men a year in the UK are told they have the condition, compared to 55,550 women – he died. He was 32.
Now his widow is hoping to raise awareness of the plight of young people with cancer after the heartbreaking experience of losing her husband.
Jess Walton, from Swanley, said: “He thought it was nothing but we went to the GP who told us it wouldn’t be anything bad because he was so young and a man.”
Mathew was referred to Darent Valley Hospital in Dartford as a precaution where he was seen by a consultant.
Jess said the specialist assessed the lump but again assured them that it was “nothing” and not to worry about it.
But after tests and a biopsy, the couple received a call and were asked to return.
“There was a Macmillan nurse in the room and we realised it wasn’t going to be good news,” Jess recalled.
They were told Mathew had breast cancer.
“He was really upset and I was just in shock,” said Jess. “I didn’t say anything, it was just pure shock.
“Going from being told not to worry to that was really difficult because we weren’t expecting it.
“It doesn’t help, giving you that almost false sense of security.”
The couple then had the task of having to tell friends and family.
Jess said: “There was almost an embarrassment from him to say ‘I’ve got breast cancer’ – it is very, very rare, but obviously, it does happen.”
Over the next six months, Mathew underwent chemotherapy every few weeks and a mastectomy on one side.
This is a type of surgery where one or both breasts are removed.
“For a man, it's sort of harder to recover from than a woman because there’s no breast tissue there – it takes longer to heal,” said Jess.
“We were both working full-time and trying to fit chemo in and going to and from the hospital – it kind of ages you in a way...”
“So, that was difficult, but also the whole situation of being a man in a breast cancer unit.
“Everyone looked at me – people always think it’s the woman.”
Life was put on hold for the couple as he underwent treatment.
“We were both working full-time and trying to fit chemo in and going to and from the hospital – it kind of ages you in a way.
“Obviously, there are some young people but it feels like it’s always people who are much older who have cancer – I feel like the majority are older than in their 20s.”
At the time, Jess and Mathew had been living together for a few years and were engaged.
They met when they were in their teens through a mutual friend.
“We would just hang out as you do when you’re a teenager and we were just inseparable from there.”
But often Mathew would feel ill after chemo, leaving no time to plan their wedding.
In January 2018, he finished his treatment and was told that as far as they could see, his cancer was gone.
In the autumn of that year, the pair tied the knot.
Two years later, things took a turn for the worse. Although the pandemic was ongoing, Mathew felt sick and knew it was not Covid.
He phoned the cancer unit and returned to the hospital for an MRI scan. The cancer had returned and had already spread to his lungs and spine.
He was told it was terminal and he would have two or three years to live.
Jess says Mathew continued chemo until his death in November 2021 after contracting sepsis.
The treatment had “wiped out” his immune system, leaving him unable to fight off infections.
Now Jess is hoping to raise awareness of male breast cancer, and cancer affecting young people.
In June, she will be taking part in the CoppaFeel trek with blogger, Giovanna Fletcher.
The 100km charity walk will take place over five days in the Brecon Beacons, Wales.
She is hoping to raise £2,250 for the breast cancer awareness charity. You can donate to her fundraiser here.
Jess says her biggest reason for taking on the challenge is for her late husband.
“He was such a quiet person and wouldn’t want any attention and now that he’s not here I feel I can do these things for him now.
“It’s nice to keep his memory alive in a way and also show that you can still do things after you have been through so much.”