Testicular Cancer: It's Worse in the Head (Part 1)
Editor’s Note: This piece was submitted by a contributing writer and does not represent the views of CURE Media Group. It began around August 2009 when I felt something different in the trouser department. I found that I kept having to adjust myself. When I was driving the truck for work, I kept wriggling and squirming to make myself comfortable.
One morning, I was standing in the shower and as I examined myself, I noticed something different. I wasn’t sure if one had shrunk or one had got bigger, but there was definitely something off. I could not feel any pain or a lump, so I was not unduly concerned. A few days or so later, I was sitting at home watching television and I winced when I crossed my legs. It wasn’t painful, just uncomfortable. My wife noticed and raised the subject. She had noticed the change, but wasn’t sure how to say anything without upsetting or alarming me.
The next morning, I called into my doctors to arrange an appointment. As usual, since I didn’t have a death sentence, it would be several days before I could see the doctor.
At 11:30 a.m. a few days later, I saw the doctor. He examined me, asked about pain, how long I’d noticed this and he reckoned that it may be orchitis, but it needed a urologist’s opinion for confirmation. He told me that he would send it as a “red flag email” so that the urologist would see me quicker.
On Friday I took a call from the urologist’s secretary, asking me to attend an appointment after his clinic on Wednesday at Causeway Hospital, Coleraine.
On Wednesday at 5:30 p.m., I saw the urologist. He asked me questions about the length of time I’d noticed this and if there was any pain, had there ever been any. He said that before he could comment, that he wanted an ultrasound. He made an appointment for Friday, telling me that the ultrasound would be done by then.
Then I went back to Causeway for my ultrasound. The radiologist told me that there was no easy way to say this, but he could see a lump. He wasn’t sure if it was malignant or benign. I didn’t know the difference and I didn’t care. All I heard was the word "lump". To say that my heart sank was an understatement. I went cold and numb. Tears welled in my eyes. The word "lump" was bouncing round inside my head taunting me.
I remember babbling while the radiologist tried to explain what would happen. He asked me when I was due back to see the urologist, which was Friday morning. He told me that he would see the urologist later that day during a normal weekly meeting and he would pass the results over then.
Looking back, I feel for the poor radiologist for having to put up with me. I left the X-ray department and stumbled my way out to my car, tears streaming down my face and when I got there, I lost it. I broke down completely. I don’t know how long I sat in the car. Tears flowed and I was angry, very angry-- why me? I lost my faith in life, humanity and God all in one go.
Eventually I recovered enough to drive back to my hometown and went to my wife’s work. I walked into the shop and luckily there were no customers. She knew by look on my face that it was bad. I lost it again. She held me and said we’d get through it together, no matter what. I don’t know how long we stood there, but eventually I went home and I got very angry again.
I was too young to die. My wife was too young to be a widow, my kids were too young to be without their dad. My granddaughters needed a granddad. My daughter was pregnant with her third child, a boy. Would I live to see my grandson due in March?
The only thing in my head was cancer. Cancer kills. 5 out of 6 people I knew who had cancer died. Now I had it. Survival rates and other statistics meant nothing.
When my wife came home we had long chat. I was still in such a mess, so she told the kids. I didn’t sleep much that night. I went to work the next day and told my boss that I would need operation. We both reckoned that it would be two or three weeks before I would get the call to go in. He told me that there were no problems, take whatever time I needed.
On Friday Sept. 9, I saw my urologist. He told me that I would come into hospital on Monday and the operation would take place on Tuesday. The tumor would be sent away to determine whether it was malignant or benign. I would then be referred to the oncology department at Belfast City Hospital. I was a bit shocked at the rapidity of the operation, but looking back, I’m glad it was quick, with little time to wonder and worry and fret. I went home and looked up malignant and benign and prayed that it would be benign.
When I came in for the surgery, my urologist examined me again and marked the side that was to be operated on. I then had to have a shower and as I had washed off some of the marker I re-marked my side to make sure that there would be no doubting. I was taken to theater at approximately 1:30 p.m. The operation, called an Inguinal Orchiectomy, took about 20 minutes. An incision is made in the groin, in the same place that a hernia operation would take place, and then tumor is removed. My tumor was approximately 5 centimeters (1.9 inches) by 2 centimeters (.79 inches).
I was back in the ward around 4 p.m. About an hour later my urologist came round to see how I was doing. I felt fine, so he offered me a tea, pie or the option to go home. I was home by 7 p.m. I was in such a rush, I forgot some of my belongings and my postoperative medications. Fortunately, a friend was able to collect them.
It had only been 20 days from the time I first saw my doctor to my operation. I spent the next two weeks recovering from the operation and the effects of the anesthetic. I was also trying to come to terms with having had cancer. I was still very angry at life. It is not like having a cold, the flu or measles. When you’re told you have cancer, it feels like being handed a death sentence.
The operation was over and naively I thought the worst was past. On Sept. 29, I went back to Causeway for a checkup and had the first of many CT scans to see if cancer had spread. I had never thought about it spreading. Dark thoughts once again reared in my head.