When and where did you first notice signs of your cancer? Was there something out of the ordinary that prompted you to check yourself/ see your GP?
Back in March 2007 at the very end of the squash season I had had a very long tiring squash match. I had stretched myself significantly more than normal, in the shower afterwards I noticed that I had one testicle larger than the other. I put it down to an injury I must have picked up during the game. I continued doing exercise without any problems over the next month, hoping that it would go down. I didn’t feel unwell and had no unusual feeling in the testicle what so ever.
Did you check yourself regularly and were you aware of the signs and symptoms of male cancer before you were diagnosed?
I had never heard of or done any self examination before so I left it in the hope it would go down. A month later there had been no real change and luckily as I had my brother over who is a Doctor I very reluctantly let my brother have a look. This felt very wrong, it’s not something you would normally do in front of your brother! He advised me to go to my GP. We thought / hoped it was some kind of infection. I hadn’t seen a GP in ages as I was a very healthy chappy and I had only just moved to Penrith, 3 months before this from York, so I hadn’t got around to sorting one out! I was seen pretty quickly. In fact I was seen on the same day. Dr Brock was excellent and she sent me off to the Oncology department at the Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle where I was sent for an Ultra Sound Scan. By this point I had a bad feeling! I’d now done a fair bit of research on the internet and now had a bad feeling about things.
How did you feel when you were first diagnosed? Did your feelings change during your treatment?
After the ultra sound scan, I had several blood tests and then went to the consultant’s room, were the consultant said that I was going to have an operation to remove the testicle which was swollen as they highly suspected that I had Testicular Cancer. I can still remember that point so clearly. He mentioned a fair number of different points but I was taken back completely by the word cancer. How was that possible 2 days after my 29th birthday. I had just moved away from my home town, moved to a new job and moved in with someone and now felt a very long way from Paul’s normal world. In fact I struggled to ask any questions although I had many. I was shocked and really angry, why all this now?
I am a pretty strong minded person and I believe if you are one of the few unlucky males to be given this bad news it makes you an even stronger character in the long run. Once I have set my mind on something I give it a dammed good go.
Please give us a brief explanation of your treatment
I had the infected testicle removed, I then had a CT scan to see whether or not it had spread. Unfortunately it had spread into my lymph glands in my abdomen and so I started 12 weeks of chemotherapy. I was worried about the BEP chemotherapy treatment. The Bliomicin is known to potentially damage the lungs and as I had and still wanted to climbed high altitude peaks around the world and relied on my lungs for my sport I was very worried, through out. My tumor markers after the testicle had been removed where at over 5000 in a normal male they should be between 0-10. The Chemo had a big impact on these figures and they were soon on the fall. I felt really good and looked forward to the figures as it showed I was fighting back. After the end of treatment my levels had returned to below 2. I had another several CT scans to see if the cancer which had spread to my lymph glands had increased in size. They were very unsure if it was scar tissue or more cancer, so I was sent to Preston for a PET scan where this confirmed it was scar tissue. I am now 3 years though the follow up checks and am pleased to say the tumor markers are still below 2!
Although treatment makes you ill and weak, and you have physical changes to deal with such as hair falling out and being sick and tired. I made it my aim not to give in. I still went to work when I wasn’t having treatment, still continued doing light exercise and I would say the biggest benefit to me mentally was that I was even during Chemo treatment planning what I was going to do once I was at the other end of the treatment.
Was there a particularly difficult or distressing part of your treatment or your cancer journey?
I would say the whole thing is mentally and physically very tough right from being told the bad news, half the problem is the not knowing. Going off to the fertility life centre is also a pretty horrible time to provide a sample for storage. This has to be one of the worst moments as you are about to undertake an operation and been under extreme pressure already and then this all combines into making this period one of the worst moments!
But you do learn to live with it very quickly and learn how to fight back. I would maybe say it’s harder on other people around you and although you can get very emotional at times yourself, its important not to forget the people trying to help you along the way.
Maybe the worst part for me was the point up to and being told that you had cancer, after that you can start the fight. So the sooner you get in and get checked the less of this distressing period you have to go though!
Men must remember that this is one of the more curable cancers!
What is the most important thing your family and friends did to support you?
This was pretty simple, our family is pretty close and they came across from York on every main treatment stage and just kept in touch. You soon work out who is close! We had arguments, which was sparked from the treatment, it’s a stressful time, but if you’re close you’ll get over them. Keep talking to one another and ask how everyone is doing.
What medical or emotional support would you like to be offered in the future to support you after your treatment ends?
I think Orchid is a wonderful charity and it would be great if men going through treatment were given some information on this charity during their treatment to see that testicular cancer doesn’t mean it’s the end of your life. I only found them as I was looking for a charity to raise funds for after my treatment.
What would be your message to other men affected by male cancer? What would be your message to their partners?
Plan on what you are going to do after finishing treatment, treatment is hard but it can be made all the easier if you feel you have something to look forward to after treatment.
Message to partners, I think you have the hardest job of all. Men are strange to get your head around! You’ll help us most by listening and been around during the major treatment stages.
What I ended up doing after treatment?
So only a year after completing Chemo on the 11 October 2008 I headed out to a 7000m Peak in Nepal, the aim to climb higher than I have ever been before. The mountain was called Mount Baruntse, located deep in the heart of the Nepalese Himalayas. It was so remote that from our drop off in we had an 11 day trek to the Base camp. I successfully climbed higher than I had been before to over 7000m and climbed the mountain using 2 further camps over a period of 11 days. I proved to myself and other people that even after such a distressing year I had come out the other end a stronger and with a passion to continue with life as I had done before cancer.
You can follow Paul’s adventure here: