Peter Withey

Testicular cancer

Peter WitheyIt was in 1987, at the relatively late age of 44, that I went to the doctor the first time and said I thought my left testicle was larger and ‘harder’ than the other. He dismissed it as probably just a temporary thing. Shortly after that the GP practice took on a new doctor and I was transferred to him.

Visiting the GP on a Wednesday in February 1988 for a simple problem, he found he had a longer time-slot available and, as a new patient, asked me if he could give me a quick medical to fill-in his background knowledge of me. When he saw my left testicle, he arranged an appointment with a consultant for the following Saturday. As a parting shot he asked if he could use the practice’s new ultrasound scanner on me; which is why I have a ‘photo’ of ‘lefty’ just before I lost him!

The consultant, having asked a colleague to give a second opinion, suggested I needed an orchidectomy on the following Monday and asked me to come in early. On the Monday morning he explained the meaning of orchidectomy, and what he feared he might find – a ‘lump’ or ‘tumour’. Back then “The Big C” was never talked or written about, so I knew very little about cancer. But, ‘the doctor knows best’ was a mantra my mother used, so off to the operating theatre they wheeled me. I came round later that day and spent the next one and a half days recovering in hospital. My teenage daughter and her boyfriend called for me and took me back home on the Wednesday, sore and in a little pain with a scar on my stomach where they had fished down and reeled-in my testicle.

Whatever you do with your life, do learn the symptoms of cancers that may affect you, and wherever possible, as with testicular cancer, examine yourself regularly and never, never let a sense of embarrassment get in the way of ensuring a long and happy life.

Two weeks later I returned to see the Consultant where he told me the, confusing, results of the histopathology laboratory’s examination of my tumour. “You’ve had cancer. It’s a malignant tumour that stopped growing, so technically it’s benign”, he said! I never thought that you would hear malignant and benign in the same description, but at least it was benign at the end, which calmed my fluttering heart. Then the sucker-punch “We need to see if it has spread” he concluded. “I’ll make an appointment for you to have a CTI full body scan”.

This was the first time I heard the word ‘cancer’ applied to me; quite a shock. On the way home I stopped at my local bookshop and found a book ‘Living with Cancer’ by the Consumers’ Association, the publishers of “Which?” A ‘Best Buy in cancer seemed an unlikely group test, but at least there was some published information. The World Wide Web was not going to come into existence until August 1991, so there was no possibility of ‘browsing’ for testicular cancer information. The only piece of information that the consultant gave me illustrates how far advanced we are now (2010), both in progress in treating cancer and in developing ‘bedside-manner’. “When Bob Champion (Winning jockey of the 1981 Grand National) had testicular cancer in 1979 his chances were about 50:50 of pulling through; nowadays (1985), you’ve only got a ten percent chance of dying”. So I was grateful to seize on something as positive as a book title ‘Living with cancer’.

A month later and an hour’s drive to the nearest large hospital with a CTI scanner, saw me get ready for the next stage of discovery. “We’re going to move the flat bed you lay on through that narrow tube and see if the cancer has spread. It’s quite slow, as I am looking at the screen as each picture comes up. It will take about 45 minutes. Don’t worry, it works a bit like a bacon slicer, and I look at the surface of each slice”. Luckily, being an electronics engineer by training, I understood what he was trying to say, and knew I wasn’t going to be sliced up like a laboratory specimen. How many other patients he scared is hard to guess. A second scan was necessary after an injection of a trace into my bloodstream, so I was there all morning.

I believe the experience has changed me as a person. It certainly made me see that life was a finite gift, and you have to get on with it now. You may not have an opportunity “later”.

Another time lapse and I went to see the oncologist who would be my ‘handler’ for the next four years. He gave me the good news that the CTI scan had shown no evidence that the cancer had spread, although he did ask why my medical records didn’t show that I had had TB (tuberculosis) as a child! Apparently a small shadow on my lungs showed a mild attack. If I had been a cat, that would have been two of my nine lives gone. I went on to have a second scan six months later and then a further three annual scans – all with the same positive answer.

The most important thing my family and friends did to support me was to continually encourage me that there is no point in worrying, and that a positive attitude would work wonders.  I believe the experience has changed me as a person. It certainly made me see that life was a finite gift, and you have to get on with it now. You may not have an opportunity “later”.

Whatever you do with your life, do learn the symptoms of cancers that may affect you, and wherever possible, as with testicular cancer, examine yourself regularly and never, never let a sense of embarrassment get in the way of ensuring a long and happy life. Go to your GP at the earliest opportunity, and get your problem sorted!

I’m now 68 and enjoy working for Orchid in a fundraising role, but also going out and sharing my story and new found knowledge with men young and old, as well as their mothers, sisters, partners and wives, because all men listen to the lady in our life, if we know what’s good for us.