The Joys of Cancer

In May of 1997, I was diagnosed with Testicular Cancer. The following is a light-hearted first person account or my experience at the time.

It's now May 2002, 5 years later and still cancer free. Just taking some time to re-visit the page, make some changes (to make sure it reads well), and to add some 5 year thoughts at the end.

The most asked question is why I keep this story on line.

First off, it's my page, and like it or not, cancer is a big part of anynone's life, no matter how big or small.

The second is sharing. When I got cancer and told people, I was floored when I found out how many of my friends had lived through their ordeal and I had no idea. Although a very personal experience, perhaps it's time to break the silence about cancer & dispel the myths that it doesn't happen often. It happens a lot.

Lastly is for other TC folks. The Testicular Cancer Resource Center pages were a godsend for me when I found out I had TC myself. Aside from the wonderful resources and information (I can't praise them enough), I was most enamored with the personal stories. Dozens of folks had submitted their stories to the site. Some good. Some bad. Supposed it was like a little support group. After I had been through my ordeal, I felt I should repay them by adding my own experience to their collection.

So, that being said, feel free to read the original story.

Well, as they say, the fun never ends.

Yes, I must confess. I am now a tried and true member of the Cancer Survivors Club. Below is a detailed account of my experience with Testicular Cancer in the spring of '97. At the time I was 33, which is considered high on the 'statistical' range for getting TC. This is my testimonial contribution to the Testicular Cancer Resource Center pages. Check them out for more info and to find out how to examine yourself regularly. TC (as it's called) can hit anyone... Anyone can get it - from newborns to old men, although it happens statistically to young men up to 30. It also transcends all social groups, from celebrity comedians like Tom Green to world class athletes like cyclist Lance Armstrong (Lance's ordeal is outlines in his book, "It's Not About the Bike").

In late May of 1997 I went to the urologist for testicular pain. TC isn't usually painful at all, and of course it's the last thing on any guys mind. Unfortunately (or in this case,fortunately, I have a condition where I get infections down there every once in a while so I went to have them checked out to see if they had any new information on the infections. Well, instead of an infection, a lump he did find, and less than a week later I went under the knife.

OK, so it wasn't that easy. The trouble is TC treatment is pretty much straight forward - Find it, confirm it, lob it off. Add to this the fact that most urologists out there and doctors have no personality whatsoever, and well... :)

Luckily the TCRC was there to help me out. It turns out a lump in the testis is pretty much a sign of cancer. There isn't much else that can cause a lump down there. What confirms this, or at least gives them a good sign, is having an ultrasound. The ultrasound confirmed that it most likely was cancer.

The reason they have to lop it off is there's no way to tell if the testis has cancer until it a biopsy can be done. They can't do a needle biopsy, as when they puncture the internal sac that contains the testis, cancers cells could spread. So you're pretty much hosed. It's got to go. And, of course, the sooner the better.

Mom was kind enough to come up for the big day. I had no idea how I'd be after surgery, and I live alone, so I had no idea how much help I'd need. Well, i knew I wouldn't want to cook at least. :) Plus, moms get mushy with this kind of stuff. Add to this the fact that I don't do surgery well. Anesthesia always makes me sick, and I'm a very slow healer (Exacto cuts on my fingers take 2-3 weeks to heal. sigh). I'm still shocked when I read accounts of people heading back to work the next day!

The operation is simple enough. They go in through your pubic region (about half way between your belly button and your business. That's where the vas deferens come through your abdominal wall - the same place where you would get a hernia operation. They kind of work it "up and out". Hey, it gave me the willies too. :) Guess that's why they knock you out for this. They clip it this way for the same reason they don't do biopsies - puncturing the testis and all.

The operation is fine. It's the recovery that sucks. I read all these other accounts of people hopping off the table and going to work the next day. They must have gotten better drugs than me. :) I was hobbling around like an old man for about a week. You'd be really surprised how often you use your abs. Walking, stairs, sitting, standing up, pinching a loaf, laughing (ouch). Turning in bed. It's kind of like you don't appreciate being healthy until you get a bad cold. You don't appreciate being able to roll form your right side to your left side in bed until you have your abs sliced open. 10 minutes of "ooh" "owww" "ouch" just to roll over. sigh. And then getting out of bed... Well, it was in interesting 2 weeks. But you walk a little more each day and it hurts less and less.

So now the hard part comes. First, the biopsy showed it was cancer. Not great news, you hate to have one of your nuts lobbed off and then hear 'hey, it was nothing'. The good news it was a seminoma - a non-spreading form of TC.

The next question - Has it spread? C first spreads to lymph nodes; so they take a CAT scan to see if any nodes show up as 'iffy'. Worst case, they have to go in and removed infected nodes. It's not pretty at all, and you do NOT want that operation. (Yes, that the operation that Tom Green showed on his TV show. eiwwww).

There was a node or two that were borderline on the scan. But given they didn't look too bad, combined with the fact this was a seminoma, they chose not to operate. yes! The only break I got during the whole ordeal.

Now, what kind of treatment. Again, given only a node or two looked bad, they decided to nuke me (radiation). A lot less hard on the bod than chemo. Turns out nuking wasn't too bad. It's almost worse having your other nut put in a protective clam shell each time before baking. Although after the first session, my stomach definitely wasn't a happy camper, so I made them give me drugs for the queasiness.

I was working half days at work, so I got some extra sleep each morning. I decided to go back part time to keep myself busy. Knowing I might not feel well during this, I really didn't want to be sitting at home feeling iffy all day. Luckily work was accommodating, and being there kept my mind off the situation.

The worst part of getting nuked was I gained a lot of weight. :) It's my european upbringing. What do you do when you have an upset stomach? You eat something. So THAT went on for a month. :) It's not bad at all. The only bad part is the clamshell, but you get over that. (actually the bad part was seeing the kids in the waiting room waiting to be nuked as well for their C's :(

So once radiation is done, and you get a little recovery time, you get another CAT to see how those 'ol nodes look. I got the CAT again, and everything looked peachy. Now I'm a regimen of regular doctor visits, and regular CATs, x-rays and blood work. Was every 3 months, now every 6 months, moving to longer times as time goes on.

So, since then I've been cancer free and back to my old self. Some reflections for you the reader (posted 1998):

Check yourself out. Hey, you get to feel yourself up in the shower, what could be more fun. And if you find something, see a doctor. These people are professionals. No one is ever going to make fun of you for being on the safe side. There's nothing sadder than reading about men who were too 'macho' to see a doctor, and ended up having cancer spread throughout their bodies (including Lance Armstrong). The only problem is that this is a young persons cancer - Parents can't even talk to their kids about masturbation, never mind checking for cancer. Give your kid a pamphlet, or discretely let them read some of the stories on the TCRC page.

After having been through it - getting part of your pride and joy removed is no big deal. First off, you have two of them - you will still generate sperm and testosterone. Second, you won't be much of a man if you don't get it checked and you drop dead of cancer. The snip is the lesser of two evils. :) Plus, you don't really notice it. Unless they hung down to your knees and were the size of baseballs, your partners won't know, and they won't care either. (no one has complained yet :).

Throw your embarrassment out the window. First off, these people are doctors and nurses - professionals. They've seen them all. They've seen better than yours, and they've seen worse than yours. And they don't care. :) Second, EVERYBODY will see it. The doctor. The ultrasound people. The tattoo people. the surgeons and the whole team. All the assistants to all these people. The doctor and ALL the students who show your business off on rounds. All the radiation people (i mean please, they have to put the good one into a clamshell every day. :-) The cancer doctors. After the first dozen or so, you lose your modesty, and will pretty much whip it out for everyone without a second thought. :)

Read the stories on the TCRC. Learn from those that have gone through it. Read the technical information as well. There's nothing more dangerous than a well informed patient. You'll impress the doctors as well

You have friends and family, and they all care very deeply for you. Use them. :) For support, I mean. Don't keep this a secret. There is NOTHING that YOU did to cause this. I mean people eat sticks of butter for breakfast, get heart attacks, and tell the world. People get cancer through no fault of their own and feel embarrassed. duh. Everyone will show their support and love for you and help you get through this. Plus, you'll be surprised how many friends and co-workers are also members of the C survivors club...


Some people have asked questions and made comments. They have been paraphrased below.

Q: I am going to check myself tonight and keep on checking -- because of what you've written (and been through). I am aghast at what you've been through - but proud of your for your courage. That defines 'manhood'. You're a hero to me. I had an uncle die of prostate cancer so I know how important what you're saying is. You have my utmost respect, john.

*blush*. Thankyou. I'm not quite sure what to say. Cancer is one of those things you just get. Once you get over the fact that you have it, and it's not your fault, you just grin and bear it and try to get to the other side as best you can. As for examining yourself, the TCRC has a self-exam page that will show you the correct way to check your testies each month.

Q: "Shooting Blanks"

As I mentioned, most of the time your, ummm, business works fine. Complete details are at TCRC, but to summarize. The only danger to erectile function is if you need to have major surgery to have lymph nodes removed. There is a chance nerves can be damaged during this, but they are small. And, they are smaller now than in the past. This question asker had the operation 16 years ago, when surgery was more invasive. The chances of the nerves being unaffected in surgery performed today are much higher now than in the past.

Also, don't forget your testies have nothing to do with erection or ejaculation. Even if you had to have both removed, you can still be sexually active.

Q: Being Gay...

Well, to start with sexual orientation has nothing to do with TC. It can happen to men of any orientation with equal chances. And, as you read in the above question, everything still works fine. :)

The only "gay" thing was my decision to not have some sperm put in a sperm bank. There is a minute chance that radiation might damage sperm production in the remaining testis, so many men choose to bank some samples before treatment, just in case. (there's also the chance that chemo will damage the remaining testis more than radiation could). But, being neither my boyfriends nor my husband will be getting pregnant :) I chose not to bank any.

Found this little bit in Men's Health magazine. though I would post it here as an FYI...

Mountain bikes may be designed to handle rough terrain, but your body isn't. According to an Austrian study, mountain biking can cause scrotal damage. Researchers studied 76 men and found that nearly all of the mountain bike riders suffered from benign tumors, cysts, or twisted veins in the scrotal area, compared with just 16 percent of the non bikers. The jarring impact of mountain rides is believed to cause microscopic trauma to the scrotum. "Using a full-suspension bike with a Y-shaped, shock-absorbing seat may reduce your risk of injury," says Ferdinand Frauscher, M.D., the lead researcher.
So that's about it. all in all TC is a big roller coaster ride, and there's nothing you can do but buckle your seat belt and get ready for a bumpy night. :) (sorry, couldn't resist).

Feel free to drop me line if you'd like to discuss, share, comment or ask anything.

Well, it's now May of 2002; 5 years after surgery. Re-read my account. Made some corrections. The 6 month checkups will be going yearly, or even less frequently soon.

Thought there'd be something profound to say, but there really isn't. Although the first year things are still on your mind, this, like other events, fade over time to become part of the tapestry that is your life.

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John Mclachlan