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FIRST PERSON: What a Ball Ache, Part 1

Richard Woodward shares his experience of kicking Testicular cancer in the nuts…

“How often do you check your testicles? Do you rummage around on a daily basis, or do you only occasionally indulge in a perfunctory examination. Nowadays, men are exhorted to check their dangly bits for any bumps, lumps, or other unexplained excrescences on a regular basis. The NHS Choices website advises that the best time to check our spherical friends is “after a warm shower or bath, because this is when your scrotal skin will be most relaxed” and men should do this “around once a month”, although the advice on the frequency varies.

“Back in the early 1990’s, when I was a mere sprig of a lad, there wasn’t as much publicity about the necessity to keep checking one’s testes. I was obviously aware that cancer could afflict most parts of the body, though I thought it predominantly attacked organs such as the liver and the lung, and I associated it mainly with smokers. I did have a vague memory of a jockey called Bob Champion riding the winning horse in the Grand National after beating testicular cancer but my knowledge of that particular ailment ended there. So when I began to notice that my left testicle was slightly swollen and rather tender, I thought more along the lines of some kind of infection. I had suffered a similar swelling in the same testicle in my early teens but that had subsided quite swiftly, so I simply assumed a similar process would occur. It did not; in fact, the testicle continued to swell and become more and more painful and debilitating. It became so big that a noticeable bulge was visible in my groin which was somewhat embarrassing. I had visions of bouncing to work on it like some sort of fleshy Spacehopper.

keep-calm-and-check-your-balls

“Despite this, I was still not overly concerned. Looking back now, I’m pretty sure I was subconsciously keeping myself in a state of deliberate ignorance in order to avoid confronting the awful possibility of something far more serious, far more deadly. However, my GP didn’t seem particularly worried either –  he examined it thoroughly and merely mumbled something about “twisted pipes” or “a slight infection”. If he wasn’t overly concerned, why should I be? But it didn’t go away and my parents were becoming more concerned than me. Then, one day, the pain was excruciating, so, after taking advice from a medical acquaintance, my parents took me to the A & E department of the local hospital. From the immediate concern shown by the medical staff, it quickly became apparent that it was something more serious; I was told that I would be kept in overnight and sent for a scan as soon as possible. Even then, though doubts were starting to peck at the corners of my mind, I was still relatively confident that it would all be cleared up quite rapidly. The expression on my mother’s face betrayed a far less sanguine outlook.

“After a short time on the ward, I was wheeled down into the bowels of the hospital for a CT scan. This involved a rather cold gel being smeared over my scrotum and then a probe being moved over the surface of the guilty testis. The chap performing the operation was distant and aloof and made no real attempt to put me at my ease or make any attempt to treat me as an individual human being. The screen displaying the inner workings of my scrotum was fully visible to me and the blurry outline of the offending object soon swam into view. I could immediately discern some black spots or smudges on the testicle, and I think I finally realised there and then what it was. I had seen medical documentaries on the TV, had seen those blotches before, and I realised that it was probably cancer. The doctor was coldly matter-of-fact: “You’ve got cancer of the testicle and it will have to be amputated”. It is a cliché but it was true – my blood felt like it literally turned to ice. I was stunned, both with the offhand delivery of the bombshell, and the potential implications. Two questions quickly formulated in my mind – “was I going to be in a lot of pain?” and, more fundamentally, “was I going to die?”. I was assured that neither scenario was going to happen, though I was in too much turmoil to really believe his casual assurances. Back outside, in the soulless, bleak corridor, I broke the news to my parents and my then girlfriend. My mum’s immediate response was, “You’re joking!”, which caused me to snap back, “Of course I’m not joking, do you think I would joke about something like that?”. I knew she had not really meant it, it was merely an outburst of shock, and I regretted my sharp response.

“Back on the ward, preparing myself for the imminent operation, I began to ponder what my life would be like after the amputation. Would my sense of masculinity be irretrievably impaired? Would I be a half-man, any sort of man? Some sort of mutant? Would my girlfriend want to know me any more? Would any woman want to know me with such a disfigurement in such a sensitive part of the male body? Would I simply engender feelings of disgust and contempt in the opposite sex? What if it the operation didn’t work and I was doomed to die young? All these thoughts, and more, swirled around my mind in mad confusion. I felt alone, scared and  filled with dread. Then, a couple of orderlies appeared with a wheelchair and told me it was time for my date with the surgeon’s scalpel. My testicle and I were about to part company….”

To be continued…

If you’re concerned about testicular cancer and want more information, check out: checkemlads.com

 

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