Hearing and reading about improved survival rates for testicular cancer reminds me of my own experience nearly six years ago now. Invariably these media reports are always quite generic yet hide for those who have or have had the disease, their own personal experience. In particular, it gives Doctors the opportunity to get their messages across about self-examination and getting checked out by a doctor early. The sooner you can catch it, the better the diagnosis is. If in doubt, go to your GP. Don’t leave it, a message particularly for men who are notoriously slow in seeking medical help for any condition.
I want to go back though to the issue of self-examination which is at the nub of my story. I had an insistent and very uncomfortable pain in the lower part of my abdomen one Friday morning, ironically the very day I was leaving the employment of the Transport and General Workers Union. It was so bad, I had to leave a lunch organised for me to say goodbye to everyone. I got home and went to bed but couldn’t sleep as I was in a lot of pain by then. In the end, I called the doctor who on examining me thought it might be appendicitis and ordered me over to A&E without delay. Once there, I was checked over again and again but they couldn’t find the problem. One doctor came in and told me I was a mystery (heard that before!). About five hours after arriving, a doctor came in and examined me and went away again. I didn’t pay too much attention to what he was examining. He came back and told me he had found a lump on my testicle. You can imagine my thoughts because we all know what that means don’t we? But, do you know what was really bugging me? I’d had that lump for ages and didn’t do anything about it! I phoned up my mate from the hospital who admonished me! I felt stupid and guilty.
I was kept in overnight and examined in the morning by a urologist. He reassured me as only doctors can. ‘Yes, it’s a lump.’ Yes we’ve got it early.’ ‘Don’t worry, we will do an ultrasound scan but everything will be OK I’m sure.’ I was ordered to have nothing to worry about! I was discharged with a packet of painkillers to wait for my ultrasound appointment.
It came through very quickly and I was back within the week. In I went and reported to the relevant department where I was told to undress and given one of those hopeless gowns that tie up at the back but never work! I was told to lie down and the doctor went to work. The first thing they do is put gel on the part they want to scan which in my case was my testicle. On it went. I was confused. It’s on the wrong one I said. He checked. No, it’s the correct testis, the right one he confirmed. I looked at him askance. It’s the left one I said, that’s the one with the lump. He double checked and said no, it is the right testis honest. I can feel the lump he confirmed. He then took my finger and placed it gently on the ‘lump.’ I couldn’t feel a thing. I was convinced it was the other one. He examined my left one and said no, they were just veins which are a bit gnarly which is quite normal. Anyway he said, you can’t really train someone to feel these lumps I suppose!
I’d spent a whole week thinking the lump was on my left one when all along it was my right! I had no reason to feel stupid or guilty. I’d misread what they told me in A&E on the night I was taken in. I felt relief, which is an odd feeling when you have been told you have cancer.
There is though an important point here which needs to be understood. Self examination is a hugely important part of diagnosing this disease early. The problem was, even when the urologist led my index finger to the lump, I couldn’t feel it which is a bit worrying. Self examination is important and I will not say anything to undermine that message. Just don’t rule out other symptoms too! I thought I had something wrong with my stomach and yet it turned out to be testicular cancer. That phrase about knowing your own body isn’t always correct. Never assume anything. I got the wrong testicle. A little knowledge misinterpreted could be the death of you!
I had to have operations and chemotherapy which was bloody unpleasant but ultimately successful for which I am truly grateful. Everyone who helped me was great and I thank them. I’m now free from all further checkups as it’s five and half years since I finished my chemotherapy and the oncologist is happy. And so am I!