It’s a storyline that gripped millions of Eastenders fans, as male character Stuart Highway was diagnosed and treated for breast cancer.
But what not many people will know is actor Ricky Champ, who plays Stuart, made sure he gained vital insight for the role by meeting with an online support group co-founded by DMU psychologist Kerry Quincey and Doug Harper, who has been diagnosed and treated for the disease.
The group, called The Men’s VMU – meaning Virtual Meet-Up – was started two years ago, in a first for the UK, in which men could get together once a month via Zoom for a chat about their breast cancer diagnoses and how it has affected them and their loved ones.
It was started by Dr Quincey, from DMU’s Institute of Psychological Sciences, and Doug, from London, after he had taken part in research by Dr Quincey which revealed men did not feel they were offered the same level of support as women when undergoing breast cancer treatment
Since then The Men’s VMU has thrived and, as well as actor Ricky Champ turning to them for advice, cancer charities such as Breast Cancer Now, Macmillan, Walk the Walk and Against Breast Cancer have made it their go to resource for men with the disease.
Dr Quincey said: “The work with Ricky and the recognition from cancer charities about The Men’s VMU is fantastic and perfectly demonstrates how important it is for helping real men, in real situations, to meet up and support each other in a community they have created.
“I attend the monthly meetings and Ricky joined us at the start of 2022 to find out more about breast cancer in men to inform his role in Eastenders.
“He was absolutely fantastic. He hung on every members’ words, made sure he understood their stories and was really empathetic. Ricky made a promise to do his best with the storyline he was taking on and realised how important it was to inform the public about the disease.
“I am so proud of The Men’s VMU and the way these men support each other. They are like a bunch of mates who meet down the pub once a month to talk about day-to-day things as well as their breast cancer experiences.”
Doug, a bona fide East Ender, husband and dad, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012. He said: “The Men’s VMU has gone further than anyone of us thought – and in such a short time. The influence it is having now has been incredible.
“We mustn’t lose sight of the fact it is all about the men with breast cancer and giving them the chance to meet each other and offer support but it has succeeded far beyond my wildest dreams.
“When I spoke to Ricky about the breast cancer plot line he was brilliant. He has been so supportive of the group, so down to earth and so interested in what we do. He is carrying the flag for breast cancer in men. It has become a sort of passion project for him and I don’t think that passion will leave him.”
Doug, who admits he gets ‘a bit of stick’ in the group for being a Leyton Orient supporter, added: “When I was first diagnosed I had nowhere to go. My breast care nurse said there was a meeting group but I would be the only man there.
“The illness in men is rare – I was the first man in the area in three years, I think it was, to be diagnosed – but The Men’s VMU was desperately needed.
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“One of the very few good things to come out of COVID was that everyone learned to use Zoom and it meant we could all link up from all over the country. I don’t know how we would have set up the group otherwise.
“So now we meet and we don’t just talk about cancer. We discuss the serious stuff but we have a lot of banter and micky taking going on. The most important thing is we are watching each other’s backs.”
Doug had special praise for Dr Quincey and her work to get The Men’s VMU off the ground.
“Without her it just wouldn’t exist,” Doug said. “Having The Men’s VMU was something I dreamed about happening but Kerry made it a reality. She got the ball rolling and whatever I am doing around breast cancer in men I will always discuss it with Kerry
“She comes to all the meetings and disappears for a while for us all to have a chat amongst ourselves but she has become an honorary member of The Men’s VMU.
“Everyone in the group highly respects her and she is an incredible woman – even though she supports Leicester City!”
Dr Quincey continues to use The Men’s VMU to inform her research, by building connections with cancer charities and experts in the field.
Members of The Men’s VMU have also featured as invited guests in Dr Quincey’s lecture on men’s health on the MSc Health Psychology Programme.
She said: “Our students relished the opportunity to learn about breast cancer in men directly from the patient-survivor perspective, and Dave Talbot – the invited speaker – enjoyed sharing his experience and informing them further about the realities of what life is like for men diagnosed with breast cancer.”
To find out more about The Men’s VMU contact Doug.firstname.lastname@example.org
You can also follow the group on Twitter @TheMensVMU
Posted on Tuesday 14th June 2022