On 2nd October 2006 I went to my G.P because I had noticed a pea size lump on my left testicle after feeling a slight pain and discomfort there. My GP examined me and said that he could not feel anything abnormal … which was really what I was wanting to hear but to be honest I wasn’t convinced – after all I had lived with them for 29 years and this lump definitely had not been there before. So I returned to my G.P. the next morning and made sure that he felt what I was feeling and he referred me to a Q.E.D. (which stands for Quick and Early Diagnosis) clinic at my local hospital. The appointment came through for two weeks time and I tried to put it to the back of my mind knowing there wasn’t anything more I could do till then.
I arrived at the clinic with my Fiancee for moral support and was quite relieved to see that I was by far the youngest person in the waiting room. Surely me being in that room was some sort of mistake because “cancer is obviously an OLD persons disease”. I was fit and healthy, had been at work that morning, had driven myself to the hospital and was in the prime of my life.
When I was finally called in to see the consultant he asked me to remove my trousers and lie on the couch next to an ultrasound machine identical to the ones they use for scanning pregnant women – again I thought maybe this was all a mistake – but no this was an ultrasound machine and yes it was meant for me … or well at least my left bollock! As the consultant scanned me I could not really make out what was on the screen so looked to the consultant for reassurance instead. He looked fairly stoical and tried not to give anything away as he asked me if I would mind if his female student doctor could also have a feel to which I quickly agreed!
Whilst I was distracted by the young, female doctor the consultant called for a senior colleague for a second opinion and to confirm his fears. This second consultant had a slightly less stoical look and had instead a concerned expression. After taking about 20 seconds to look at the photograph of my left testicle on the screen the doctor said in a stereotypical doctor way, “Hmmm, well get yourself dressed Mr Kilbey and come and take a seat at my desk we need to have a bit of a chat I am afraid”.
I instantly knew that my worst fears were about to be confirmed and as soon as my bum had touched the seat he uttered those words of dread, “Well Mr Kilbey I am sure that it is Cancer”. My reaction was the only one which seemed appropriate at the time – “Oh bollocks”, I replied.
The consultant then continued to tell me the plan of action. I was to have blood tests straight away which would help them determine the extent to which the cancer had spread so far. Apparently testicular cancer tumors produce proteins in the blood which are called tumor markers and are only elevated from a normal level if there is a cancerous tumor in your system. He also continued to tell me that in 3 days time I would be admitted to hospital to have the cancer removed and with it the testicle it had decided to attach itself to.
As soon as he had finished with me I turned round to see that two more people had entered the room I was in and I quickly became aware that there were 5 medical professionals in the room with us – this started to seem even more serious.I was asked to follow a male nurse, Paul, who would be able to answer any other questions I had and would arrange for the blood tests, CT (computerised tomogrophy) scan and book me in for the operation. To be honest I couldn’t think of one question to ask at first – other than ask myself why me?? I had already done a bit of reading up on the subject and all of the statistics looked pretty good for me being sent away from hospital after being told that there was nothing to worry about – only 1800 people are diagnosed each year in the UK – that’s less than 5 a day – there was no way I could be that unlucky! The next hour was a bit of a blur of information and blood tests – I do remember being told that there were two type of testicular cancers – one called seminoma and the other terratoma – and one was worse than the other – and the nurse gave me his card which had his mobile number on which I was told I could use to contact 24 hours a day, 7 days a week if I had any problems. We were then shown up to the ward where I was going to be and the next thing I can remember is that I was outside the hospital and everything seemed to have changed. I didn’t know quite how to react, didn’t know what to say and definitely didn’t know how I was going to break this news to my Mum.
We drove home and didn’t really say much to one another – we both were thinking of all the scenarios of what was going to happen in the next few days, weeks months and hopefully years. I started to think of all of the questions that I wished I had asked at the hospital and then started to think of the best ways to tell my Mum who had no idea I had even been to the doctor in the first place. I decided that there was no best way.
The hour journey over to my Mum’s house was all a bit of a blur as well. All I can remember is that it was a mixture of thinking of the best way to tell your Mum you have cancer, crying about the fact I had just found out I had cancer and trying to crack some jokes to forget I had cancer. It was a strange feeling, all I could really think about was cancer but also all I could think was that it was the type of thing that only happens to other people.
Once I got to my Mum’s I asked her to come into her lounge as I had something to tell her and I asked her to sit down and then I just burted it out, “I have testicular cancer” it was the first time I had said it – and I think it was nearly as much of a shock to me as my Mum.
When I finally got home I didn’t really feel like eating anything even though I had not eaten since morning and it was now close to 10pm. I was more interested in finding out more about what it was that I had, what was going to happen and more importantly how I was going to fight it. I decided I wanted to know exactly what I was facing and soon things began to look a little more positive.
The next day I went in to work to inform them of what was going on and just as I arrived my phone rang and it was the nurse, Paul. My heart began to beat faster and louder as I took the call. He told me that my both of the tumor markers (AFP – Alpha Feta Protein and HCG – Human Choronic Gonadotrophin) were higher than they should be which categorically proved that it was a tumor. The AFP was at 7 and should be below 6, the HG was at 9.8 and should be below 2 – nearly 5 times as high and didn’t sound good. So that was it, I definitely had cancer.
When I arrived for my operation I was told that I would be operated on first thing. Soon after I woke, the next morning, I was wheeled down to the operating theatre, the surgeon came to see me and asked me to confirm which testicle was to be removed and he drew a big arrow on my left leg and wrote the word “left” in big letters next to it. I think this was comforting! I was then wheeled into a small room to receive my aneasthetic and the next thing I remember was waking up again – apparently about an hour later. I also remember joking with the nurse that they had removed the wrong one. I was discharged later that day with a five inch scar as an addition to my body and something else obviously missing but the swelling seemed to compensate for that!
The next time I was in at hospital was three days later for the CT scan which would give the doctors more evidence to decide how far the cancer had spread and what follow up treatment would be necessary. The whole process took only about ten minutes and I would have to wait a day or two to find out my fate.
The next day I again received a phone call from the hospital, and again my heart beat increased as I saw the number on my phones display. It was Paul again to tell me that the CT scan showed I was clear of any secondary tumors and the biopsy that they had performed on my tumor showed that the tumor had not spread to any of the surrounding tubes but that the tumor was a mixture of both types of cancer- seminoma and teratoma. This confirmed the need for chemotherapy.
The chemotherapy treatment consisted of 2 treatments both lasting 3 weeks each. I would need to be in hospital attached to a drip for 5 full days in the first week and then be back home for the next two recovering but then going back in to get a booster jab of chemo each week. Then I would go back in for another week attached to a drip for the start of the second cycle.
The time in hospital on the chemo ward gave me chance to meet several people who were in a similar position to myself and also lots who were by no means as healthy as me or had as good a prognosis. Worryingly though many of the people in there being treated had left their symptoms unchecked or had also been told nothing was wrong by their doctors in the first instance and their cancers had progressed much further by the time they had received any treatment. I really started to count my blessings.
The chemo was actually the worst part of having the cancer – I entered a world of routines I didn’t know existed. I had to walk around the ward with my drip at my side, pee into bottles to be measured and suffer the food that the NHS decided to serve up that day.
I felt at my worst after I had finished my second dose of chemo as it is a cumulative effect of building up toxins in your body to kill of the cancer but it also doesn’t do a lot of other cells much good. Each time I came out of hospital I would be discharged with a “goody” bag of between 70 and 80 tablets that I would have to take during the following week – a mixture of anti-stickness, anti-acid, anti-biotics and steroids to help keep me as fit and normal as possible.
I have now completed 5 years of checkups and have been officially discharged as a cancer patient. The whole experience has radically changed my perception of cancer from being a word to be feared and a potential death sentence to being a part of life that will affect virtually everyone at some point. Being a cancer survivor hasn’t stopped me living my life to the full as I am now married am a proud father )(with another on the way) and about to complete my 2nd London Marathon raising funds for Orchid.