Recently CALM went to the first ever National Conference for Men & Boys. There we met a bloke called Ryan – this is his story:
“The first time I noticed something was wrong was after I watched Channel 4′s Embarrassing Bodies programme which was about testicular cancer. When I did a self-exam of my balls I noticed that one of testicles centre was completely hard. That’s when I was worried, and in the back of my mind I thought, “Oh, *$%*, it’s cancer.”
I didn’t immediately go to the doctor ’til the next day; I was worried about getting it checked and I was embarrassed about the doctor examining me. But I knew I had to go and get over my embarrassment, as the doctors see things like this every day and its nothing to them, it’s just like them looking at your arm or your knee, and it’s just another part of the body.
The next day came, I went to the doctor. He said that he couldn’t feel a lump, but agreed to send me to the consultant on my word. So the following week Tuesday came, I was at the urologist, and he asked me, “Do you feel any pain?” and I said “No”, then he sent me for an ultrasound on the scrotum/testicles. That same day I was told I had testicular cancer and was told “You’re coming in for surgery in two days’ time.” Gulp.
The very moment I was told I had cancer was a very surreal moment. I was pretty dazed and it was crazy; almost at the same moment, I was also very angry, from being embarrassed to live as a young man with only one testicle but I knew I had two options and this one had the best outcome. I cannot lie; I was also terrified of dying and things were going through my mind “Why has this happened to me?”, “What did I do to deserve this”? I didn’t realize the seriousness of the situation, I was 20 at the time, in the prime of my life and I thought I was indestructible.
After the diagnosis
By Friday, I had had surgery to remove my right testicle. It was all happening so fast, it was crazy. I was told my tumour was three weeks from taking my life; I realize that I was slowly walking towards death. I had a time bomb ticking inside my balls! Looking back, I am glad the process was very rapid.
The surgery went well and I had one of the best urologist surgeons. I didn’t have any swelling. It was only painful to laugh, cough, sneeze, flex the abdominal muscles, and lift my legs. (This is because of the location of the incision in the abdominal muscles / inguinal canal just below the “bikini line.”) With the cancerous testicle gone I thought that was it but the cancer had spread to my back, and my cancer doctor said “you have to go to a fertility clinic” to store my sperm before starting treatment.
My teratoma only require chemotherapy. I had three cycles, split into 15 sessions to remove the bits in my back and to reduce the chance of it returning in future. It made me very tired — exhausted, and I lost my hair during my first treatment. Maybe it’s being a bloke but this didn’t bother me, as I would rather be bald then lose my life. It was during this time I was nearly in a coma three times. This was because my white blood cells were completely zero as I had no immune system due to my treatment and I nearly died.
How did cancer affect me?
In terms of my physical self, I like to think I look the same and that I am in the same sort of shape that I was prior to my cancer experience; but I know this is not true. I have an 8cm scar on my stomach and I am sure that the rounds of intensive chemotherapy have permanently affected my body and my stamina. The meaning as to why I got cancer? I have yet to find one. Sometimes I think to myself that the cell just divided incorrectly and it is as simple as that.
How did cancer change my life?
My diagnosis really confirmed for me my strength and abilities to tackle anything that life brings. I have really embraced the clarity that cancer has given me. We all take life and things for granted and an experience like this just seems to help you appreciate life, family, relationships and all of the other feelings and experiences that we sometimes forget about. The toughest part of the challenge was definitely the wait. There is always a wait involved when tests are done and that is probably the hardest thing mentally.
For me, the best part of this whole experience was the ability to overcome such a life-changing experience, to grow as a person and to take nothing in life for granted, I owe my whole life to Dr Christen and the medical team that saved my life.
I learnt that cancer is a disease that does not discriminate. It’s a disease which affects nearly everyone in the world whether you are diagnosed or know someone who is diagnosed. Although modern medicine has yet to really find a cure for this disease, I truly believe that anyone with this disease can beat it if you dig deep down in your soul and fight it with an entirely positive attitude.
My views on cancers have changed big time! I use to associate cancer with death and baldness and extreme sickness and now, I have seen so many survivors that could have been easily associated with those thoughts but who are now looked upon as heroes and amazing people filled with hope, strength and courage!
I enjoy telling people about my story as they have no idea that I am a cancer survivor, it is sometimes nice to interact with people that don’t know my health history as it brings a different dynamic to things. I have been cancer free for a whole year and 8 months now… I am so very thankful to be still here, I remember how close I was from it taking my life away! Maybe it was a small miracle…
What I’m doing with my life now?
Something changed after my experience with Testicular cancer, when I was treated and cured of the cancer I felt like I was one of the lucky ones and this made me feel an increased sense of responsibility to give something back and I don’t want to ever lose that!!
Around this time I started to think that I would like to share more than just the physical, medical side of the story, and I wanted to show the antithesis of what cancer makes you think. I founded a project called “Talking Testicles” with my friend and mentor Glen Poole from The Men’s Network.
The motive behind this project is to provide an inspirational tool to motivate people and inspire them to self-check, to stop what happened to me, happening to other people. Part of our educational program is to provide talks within schools with silicone TSE Models (fake rubbery balls with one lump in each testicle) and leaflets for future teaching purposes, to raise awareness about the disease. I believe a lack of knowledge combined with embarrassment can allow it to go unnoticed until it’s too late. My talks help the students to recognise the signs and symptoms, to maybe even save their lives. Even if we save one other person, from going through the same thing as I did, as far as I’m concerned that’s a success. I would love to see every young man saying it’s ok to check myself once a month; I’m sure one day we will get there.
So, it’s pretty simple: If you feel a lump don’t be shy and have your doctor check it out! Early detection is the strongest tool for survival.”