Andrew’s Story

I was diagnosed with testicular cancer on the 11th October 2012 when I was age 19. My twentieth birthday fell on one of the days I was having chemotherapy.

Late discovery

By the time I noticed something was wrong, my right testicle was rock solid. It was also the size of a small satsuma according to the surgeon! It was very big compared to my left one.

Embarrassed to get help

I put off going to the doctor for around 2 to 3 weeks. I thought it may just be something that would go away in a few weeks, which obviously didn’t happen. And I felt very embarrassed about going and talking to my doctor, and it was hard for me to tell my parents about it.

Because I was scared to tell mum and dad about my problem, they only found out I was ill when the consultant rang them up after I went to see him on my own. I was alone when he told me I had cancer.

It really wasn’t nice going on my own, and that’s why it’s very important to me to say to other men, don’t be scared to talk about it. I don’t want anyone else to go through what I did.

Bolt from the blue

When I first went to see my GP, he thought my testicle was just swollen and said I should be sent for an ultrasound just to check it out. The ultrasound results came back to be clear – they said no cancer. However, three weeks later the specialist I got sent to told me that yes, it was a cancerous tumour.

I was shocked, as I’d been told I was coming in for a routine blood test. But when I was told I had cancer my heart stopped and my life flashed in front of me. But I knew that I could beat it, and I did. It took four cycles of BEP chemotherapy over four months and two operations.

Don’t go through what I did – Check your balls!

When I first noticed the change in my testicle, I had no idea it could be cancer. I’d never really been aware of testicular cancer before being told I had it. So now I’m determined to spread the word.

I think my story could have been a whole lot different if I’d been aware of how to check my balls. If I’d checked my balls more, I might not have ended up having all those cycles of chemo. Early detection of lumps is key, because in the early stages it might only take a small operation to remove the testicle and to stop the cancer from spreading.

Remember: a five-minute check once a month could make the difference between the cancer spreading and it not spreading. I can’t stress enough how important it is not to be embarrassed if you find something strange. Tell your GP as soon as possible, and get support from the people you trust.

Finding strength mentally

In the moment I was told I had cancer I did think to myself, “I could die”. But once I’d got over the initial shock I knew that I would beat it. That’s what I said to my friends and family, right from day one. I told them not to dwell on what had happened. I just had the thought that I’d beat the cancer set in my head the whole time I was being treated. I kept repeating it to myself. I was determined not to let cancer stop my everyday, normal life.

Coping during treatment

I had to have four cycles of BEP chemo over three months, and two operations. The first op was an orchidectomy, which completely removed the ball with the cancer. The second was a major operation following chemo to take away the affected lymph glands.

When they removed my ball, they replaced it with a fake one. It doesn’t bother me really. It looks like I have two balls, and everything works normally as before – it’s just that one is fake and one is real. The prosthetic feels a bit different, but unless I tell someone it’s not real, they wouldn’t know!

Other physical changes came with the chemo. I lost all my head and leg hair, and some of my eyebrows. I was gaining loads of weight due to all the medication and fluid I was having. But psychologically, I managed to stay strong. Although I had to reduce my hours and take some time off to recover from treatment, I carried on working like a normal person, and seeing my friends and family as if nothing had happened. This helped me a lot, as it stopped me thinking about the fact I had cancer.

Support networks

My friends and family were the most supportive people during my treatment. But the nurses at the Bristol Haematology and Oncology Centre where I was treated were absolutely brilliant too. Whenever I needed to talk to someone they were there for me. Before my treatment started I was told exactly what would happen and how it would all work, and I was updated at every stage. I was very happy always knowing what to expect.

I was introduced to It’s in the Bag by Germ Cell Nurse Sue Brand, and I knew I wanted to be part of it straight away. If you get the chance to be involved, I’d say go for it! What they offer patients and survivors is amazing. I’ve met some brilliant people through their activities. Meeting other people who have had testicular cancer helps a lot, as you can talk to any of them in confidence, knowing that both of you understand what you’ve been through.

Life after treatment

I’m now clear of cancer. The chemotherapy and operations were all a success. I’m in remission for 5 years, which means I have to undergo monthly blood tests and scans, to make sure there are still no signs of cancer in my body.

To be honest, adapting to life after treatment has been very hard. My mind was set on finishing treatment and I assumed I’d go back to work straight away, but it wasn’t like that and I’ve found it really difficult to adjust to. It’s going to take a lot of time to recover, so I am now aware that I have to take it easy and set myself realistic goals to achieve slowly.

The positives

Having had cancer, I now realise how lucky I am to have come through it and beaten it. I’ve had a second chance, and I’m going to take full advantage of it.

People tend to think of having cancer only as a very negative thing, but there are some positives I can take from my experience. I’ve met some amazing people – the nurses, doctors and other patients. Now that I’ve had it, I can be there for other people who get told they have it too. I can really help other men by making them aware of testicular cancer.

My advice to you

My advice to anyone who gets told they have cancer is to grab it with both hands. Stand up to it and say I will beat it and I will get through this. If you sit and dwell on it, I believe it will get the better of you.

Being open about it like I am is key too. Having cancer in your testicles is nothing to be embarrassed about.

For people going through treatment, I say keep a strong attitude and don’t let it play on your mind. Take each day as it comes. And for the people who’ve just finished treatment, I’d advise them to take it slowly. Don’t rush back into normal, everyday life as your strength won’t come back overnight. Set yourself goals and targets. But don’t let it stop you from doing the social things you enjoy the most.

Take Andrew’s advice, and pledge now to check your balls monthly