It was around August 2009 when I first suspected something. I felt a small lump on the top of my left testicle. I also, from time to time, had a dull achy pain coming from the left testicle. The thought of ‘Oh God, what if it’s cancer’ shot through my mind but I thought, ‘I’m young, fit and healthy, I wouldn’t have cancer’. Wrong. I left it longer and longer, hoping and expecting it to go away. However, in November 2009, with the lump slightly larger and showing no signs of disappearing, I decided to see the doctor.
Waiting in a nervous sweat, I heard “Chris to room 6” called over the speaker system. I took a seat in the doctor’s room, my heart thumping loudly. I explained to her that I’ve had a lump for a couple of months and thought I should get it checked. She got me to drop my trousers and underwear and lie on the bed which she examined it. Within 10 seconds her inspection was over and she got me to sit back on the chair. She said it was a little suspicious so she arranged an appointment with the Urologist at the hospital. Within minutes of entering, I was leaving, feeling safe in the knowledge that I’ve started to do something about it. Still, however, never truly believing or even thinking it was cancer.
On the 26th of November, my appointment with the Urologist had arrived. I got to the bus stop near my student accommodation, on the wrong side of the road to usual. Hiding behind the bus shelter to avoid any questions from friends. I arrived at the hospital, made myself known to the reception and took a seat. A tall, balding man called me in. He was my Urologist. I explained the same as I did to the doctor then, like her, got me on the bed to examine me. After a slightly more thorough examination, he explained that he thought that my problem was ‘thickening of the epididymis’. Relief filled my body. He sent me for a blood test and booked me for an ultrasound just to ensure it was nothing more serious. Good decision. I queued for my first ever blood test. Not being a big fan of needles, this wasn’t a pleasant occasion but it went past much quicker and with less pain than expected. I didn’t even scream.
On the morning of 8th of December, I returned to the hospital for an ultrasound. Like the blood test, this was the first time I had had an ultrasound. I got changed into a gown which tactfully revealed my back and derrière. I waited in the hall way until called through. I lay on the bed and awaited instructions. The sonographer then applied cold gel to my scrotum and then rolled the probe around. After about 10 minutes he had seen all he needed to see. He told me that there was a definite texture difference between the two testicles but that my Urologist will explain when I see him next. My level of concern rose.
Later that day, I was down at the University of Warwick boat house. We had just had our first outing and were having a little break before the second. I checked my phone and luckily, with my phone in hand, I had an incoming call. I answered; it was the Urologist’s secretary. He wanted to see me tomorrow morning. The fact that he wanted to see me so soon after the ultrasound gave me the impression something was wrong. I put it to the back of my mind and carried on with my day.
My heart sank. The strangest feeling I’ve ever experienced. I was numb with shock
Wednesday 9th December- a day that would change my life. I arrived at the hospital and headed to the same room I last saw the Urologist in. I took a seat. I still remember his exact words. ‘Right. When I last saw you I suspected you might have thickening of the epididymis. Well the ultrasound and blood tests suggest that it is in fact Testicular Cancer’. My heart sank. The strangest feeling I’ve ever experienced. I was numb with shock. He asked me if I had any questions. At the time I couldn’t think of anything. In reality, I had loads. He explained he wanted to operate as soon as possible. If it wasn’t for me being so keen on going to France for our rowing training camp, it could have been as soon as two days away. I booked an operation for Monday 21st December.
I returned home. In shock. Immediately on the internet doing research. I kept it quiet, not telling anyone. The next day I phoned my Dad to let him know. Hardest phone call I’ve ever made. It was during this phone call that I thought ‘These things happen’ and decided there was no point getting myself worried about it, I just needed to get on with it. With the week in France gone by with the odd ache and pain, no one other than my parents suspected a thing. Unlike everyone else who returned home, I stayed at my student accommodation for the weekend, telling people I could only be collected on Monday as my parents were busy. My dad came up on the Sunday night to take me to the hospital the next day. We had dinner then went to bed.
I awoke early, got dressed, but wasn’t allowed to eat or drink. Hard times. My dad had got up earlier to have breakfast without me seeing so I wasn’t too jealous! We left for the hospital, arriving before it was open. Headed to the department I was being seen in and took a seat. After a small wait, I had a pre-operation exam, lots of health questions and all that. I was then seen by the Urologist who was operating. He marked on my leg with big black marker pen to show which side he was operating on- that wouldn’t be a funny mistake! Having finished with him and then seeing a rather laidback anesthetist, I was getting into my gown and up to the anesthetic room. I lay on the bed which they prepared what they had to. They inserted a catheter into my wrist and when ready, injected the anesthetic. After about 10 seconds, which explaining to them about my degree course, I felt a strange feeling passing through my head and in no time, I was out. The Urologist removed my dodgy left testicle and replaced it with a prosthetic one.
I woke up in a private cubicle, feeling very tired and grouchy. The Urologist checked the wound was okay and left me to live my life. After being allowed time to wake up, I moved myself to a comfy chair where I was fed sandwiches and biscuits. Finally, walking like I had aged 70 years, I slowly made my way to the car for Dad to drive me home- shouting at him for breaking too hard was caused me pain.
My main message would be to people who don’t know they have testicular cancer yet. Follow the guidelines, check yourself regularly. If you find a lump, get it checked instantly.
Now, 4 months on and with numerous blood tests, x-rays, CT scans and meetings with the Oncologist, the operation was enough to get rid of the cancer. A huge relief to me and my family. Just 10 years of rigorous check-ups to go to ensure it stays away, or catch it quickly if it returns. I think this whole episode had made me more determined in everything I do now and given me more of a ‘get on and do it’ attitude if something comes along which you don’t like. Life is full of challenges and unwanted events and if we put our life on hold for them all, life wouldn’t be very enjoyable. I think it’s fully summarized by a Dalai Lama quote I bought as a wall hanging in India ‘Never give up, no matter what is going on, never give up’.
My main message would be to people who don’t know they have testicular cancer yet. Follow the guidelines, check yourself regularly. If you find a lump, get it check instantly. I left mine a few months and got lucky it hadn’t spread. Others might not be so lucky. The sooner it’s caught, the easier it is to treat. For anyone with cancer, it’s not doubt the hardest part of your life, you just have to believe you’re going to get better and live life fully until that point, upon which you can continue to live it fully with less fear.