No ordinary shower
I first discovered I had a problem with my balls at the age of 35, after I had finished a night shift and was having a shower. I checked myself as I have done ever since I played sport at a high level, and found three bumps shaped like crests of a wave on one of my testicles.
I was told about the importance of checking myself by a coach at one of the sports clubs I used to play at. I’m very sporty, you see. I used to play cricket for my county, and I’ve played football for Warminster Town and a few other local teams.
I believe my awareness of testicular cancer helped me to get a diagnosis relatively early. If I’d never checked myself, I may not have noticed until very late on, and – who knows – the outcome could have been very different.
Luckily, it only took me a day to get an appointment to see my doctor. I was scared at the thought that it might be cancer, but I didn’t put off going, as I know how important it is to have the problem checked out ASAP in all cases. Embarrassment wasn’t an factor for me, as I knew that without my health I might not get the chance to see my kids grow up – and I wasn’t going to let that happen if I could help it.
Scans, specialists and surgery
After seeing my doctor, I had to wait five weeks to get an ultrasound scan at Bath hospital. Then, a week later, I saw a specialist who diagnosed testicular cancer without a biopsy – this was in December 2011. He arranged for me to have an operation to remove the testicle. The date of the op was 25th January – my Mum’s birthday.
The operation was followed up with a course of BEP chemo. Once I finished this I was told to take things easy, and that I would need to come back for a CT scan between 4 and 6 weeks later. I had the scan, and unfortunately the results showed I still had a tumor. It took a major operation to get rid of it, which I had in September 2012.
The operation was a success, and I’m happy to say I’m now in remission.
A word to the wise
Even though I thought I’d caught my cancer early, I have actually been through a lot. So what I’d say to other men is this: if you have time to shower, you have time to check yourself. It only take a few seconds to do it, and if you do it regularly it could stop you from having to go through as much as I did.
My advice to you is to check yourself as often as you can. And if you do find something out of the ordinary, go and see your doctor ASAP! It may not even be cancer, so try not to worry too much. Don’t forget that if it is cancer, the recovery rate for testicular cancer is very high.
I was diagnosed with non-seminoma testicular cancer back in December 2011. I’d discovered three bumps on one of my balls while checking myself in the shower, which I’d been in the habit of doing for years. Because I was aware of testicular cancer, I knew how important it was not to wait around, so I saw my GP the next day. A specialist at Bath Hospital diagnosed testicular cancer five weeks later, without me even having a biopsy.
Staying on track
When I first got my diagnosis I was shocked. I basically thought my whole world had ended. I focused on the worst case scenario, got really upset, and also very angry. Looking around me at all the people who were still healthy, I couldn’t help thinking, “why me?”
Once treatment had started, I tried hard to stay positive. I didn’t feel different in myself, I just knew I had to get through the treatment to hopefully clear all of the cancer. There were many days when I could have just said, “sod it, I give up!” but the thought of not seeing my kids grow up was more than enough to keep me on track.
Having cancer is stressful, but I was able to cope by speaking to friends and family. After I was diagnosed, a couple of my friends came forward and told me that they’d had testicular cancer too. They’d never mentioned it before. I guess it’s not something people generally talk about unless they know someone who’s about to go through the same thing. One of the reasons I’m speaking out about it now is that I want to make more men aware, so that they get into the habit of checking themselves regularly. That way they’ll hopefully catch it quicker than me, and won’t have to go through what I have.
The chemotherapy I had (which was BEP 500) affected me quite a bit. I’m very sporty – I used to be a semi-pro footballer and a county athlete – and I went from being really fit to not being able to walk for longer than 30 minutes before getting out of breath. I found this very frustrating at first, but eventually just accepted it as a side effect of my chemo. I learned to cope by walking slower, and stopping when I needed to have a rest. Besides this, the chemo also made me lose my hair and my sense of taste. My attention span got very short too.
My friends and family were great when I was going through all this. I found rocks in people I didn’t think would be there for me. My friends would say to me that it was good to see me out and about, and that I was looking good. At first some friends and family didn’t know what to say, so I just said treat me like normal, and I didn’t mind if they starred at me. I did look different! Apart from losing my hair, I put weight on around my face. The steroids I was taking meant that I couldn’t stop eating.
Treatment: Round two
The treatment I received at Bristol Haematology and Oncology Centre was second to none. The staff were amazing – always happy to help or have a chat. After my initial course of treatment I was told to take things easy and that I’d need to come back for a CT scan between four and six weeks later. I had my scan, and the results showed I still had a tumour. I needed a major operation to remove this, which I had in September 2012.
Thankfully the operation did the job. When I was told my treatment had been successful, I was over the moon! I felt as if a big weight had just been lifted off my shoulders. The family and I celebrated with a nice bottle of champagne and a few drinks!
Help from It’s in the Bag
I got support from It’s in the Bag during my treatment by having travel grants. This was a godsend, as it used to take at least a hour and 10 minutes to get to the hospital by car. Unfortunately, the chemotherapy affected my work life really badly, and I was unable to work for a whole year from January 2012 to January 2013. So money was a bit tight at that time.
I used to drive myself to the hospital for my three-day chemotherapy course, and my partner would come with my little boy and drive back with him after I’d got settled in. It’s in the Bag’s travel fund covered the cost of my petrol.
Working back up to normal
When I did go back to work, I was on reduced hours and light duties for about two months. I was able to build back up to full strength by increasing my hours bit by bit through the core hours of the day. By the time a few weeks had passed, I was back on full hours, doing my job as normal.
A new chapter
Cancer has changed my way of life and priorities. I now make more time for my friends and family – the people who are really important in my life. I also go for the things I want more, and don’t put them off until the next day.
Since finishing treatment I’ve got back to a high level of fitness. One of my main achievements in my life after cancer has been getting back to marathon running. I wanted to give something back after all the help and support I’ve had, so I ran the Bath Half in aid of Macmillan, and the Bratton Hilly Run in aid of It’s in the Bag. On top of that, I’ve got my local pub involved in raising awareness for It’s in the Bag. They now sell It’s in the Bag branded merchandise, including t-shirts, key rings and beer glasses!
Not all cancer sufferers have the same support network of family and friends as I do – people who can be there for them. So if I can help some of them cope better with cancer, and understand the effect it has on their family and friends, then I’ll feel I’ve made a difference.
What you should know
My advice to anybody who has just been diagnosed or is going through treatment is to keep positive throughout the process. Speak to your key worker, family and friends as much as you can to help relieve the pressure of dealing with cancer. You will probably make close friends with other patients, and find it a lot easier to talk to them, as they understand what you are going through. Always try to tell your family and friends, key worker or your ‘rock’ how you are feeling, because they’re there to help you cope.
Follow Lee’s lead by checking your balls once a month as part of your routine in the shower.