Richard Woodward continues his story of how he kicked testicular cancer squarely in the nuts…
“Undergoing a major operation bears some resemblance to a heavy night on the booze – you slip into unconsciousness in a state of sobriety and awaken woozy, incoherent, not knowing where the hell you are, how the hell you got there with a vague recollection of something dreadful happening to your nether regions. Such were my pseudo-drunken feelings as I gradually emerged from my anaesthetic stupor after an inguinal orchidectomy (the rather euphonious sounding technical term for the removal of a testicle). As my mood stabilised, I was faced with the prospect of living the rest of my life as Monotesticular Man; a unibollocked bloke.
“One thing I was convinced about – I did not want to look at the aftermath of the operation, fearing a sight of grotesque disfigurement. One of the nurses asked if she could look at my scar, perhaps as a way of encouraging me to follow suit. The fact that my operation was ‘inguinal’ meant that, rather than hacking open my scrotum and grabbing the engorged testis, the surgeons had made an incision just above my groin and hauled it out, along with the spermatic cord. When I finally did pluck up the courage, it was not as bad as I envisaged; there was a livid and swollen scar, and I had been partially shaved, so I actually looked a bit ridiculous rather than malformed.
“The days following the operation were characterised by violent mood swings, as I oscillated between periods of black despair, fear, even shame, and lighter periods where I realised that, if I was going to be stricken with cancer, the testicular variety was one that was eminently survivable. My family and friends rallied round and I was overwhelmed with the support and love I received. One conversation stands out. I was relating the symptoms of the cancer to an old friend over the telephone. “God, it must have been a real ball ache” came his response. Silence. I never thought it possible to actually hear somebody blush but I was convinced I could hear the blood gushing to his cheeks as he realised what he had said. I heard a strangulated, half-stifled cry of embarrassment at the other end of the line before I quickly reassured him that, yes, it was quite literally a ball ache and I found his comment quite funny. Nevertheless, he swiftly passed the receiver to another friend before dashing off, no doubt to douse his inflamed face in a bowl of water.
“Following my operation, I was informed that, although it was not anticipated, I would have to undergo the gruelling rigours of chemotherapy so it might be wise to provide some sperm samples in case any future treatment rendered me infertile. I agreed and one morning, my Mum kicked her heels downstairs while I went sheepishly upstairs and ‘knocked out’ a sample into an impossibly narrow test tube – not the easiest manoeuvre I’ve ever had to perform. I then had to keep the test tube close to my body to keep it warm as we travelled in awkward silence into the hospital. On another occasion, I forget why, I provided the sample at the hospital itself. The female nurse ushered me into a private cubicle and, gesturing to a pile of well-thumbed pornographic magazines, whispered sepulchrally, “there is some literature there to help you produce the sample”. I had never heard a woman describe that particular genre as “literature” before and I had visions of opening one of the mags to find a copy of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ concealed within. Roughly ten minutes later, I emerged and handed over my sample with glowing embarrassment.
“Luckily, my treatment simply involved regularly attending an oncology clinic for roughly ten years. There the specialists would examine my stomach, groin, and remaining lonely testicle for anything of note, usually while uttering non-committal noises such as “mmm, yes, that’s good, ok, ah-ha, fine….”. One time, though, the specialist was feeling my groin and seemed to be concentrating on one particular spot while emitting some new and alarming noises: “Oh, I see, uh-oh, what’s this? hmmm…..”. It turned out that he had located another lump and I had to be admitted for an exploratory biopsy. Although it turned out to be merely ‘debris’ from the original orchidectomy it did arouse all my initial fears and forebodings.
“Over the years, I grew to become extra protective of my sole testicle. I wasn’t offered any form of specific psychological or emotional therapy at the time and I think I would have welcomed it. I have always suffered from depression, dread, and anxiety; a feeling that something dreadful and catastrophic was lurking around the corner. The cancer exacerbated these feelings and certainly contributed to my increasingly problematic drinking. At the same time, it also engendered an almost devil-may-care attitude; an inability to take the daily, trivial round of existence seriously. I would behave as if absolutely nothing mattered anymore and, consequently, put myself in dangerous situations. I almost seemed to be inviting trouble: if cancer couldn’t kill me, then nothing would. In the depths of the night, horrible scenarios still invade my thoughts, usually involving me losing the other one, becoming a eunuch, and being forced to live a life of solitude and loneliness.
“Overall though, I try not to wallow in self-pity and to count my blessings. It has undoubtedly left some psychological scars but I have suffered mental health problems since I was a teenager, and I expect I would probably have continued to suffer them even if I had never contracted the illness.
Many people are afflicted by far more serious cancers at a far younger age than me and, tragically, do not live to tell their story. I am still here and have been able to relate my experiences and, for that, I am thankful.”
About the author
I love art, history, theatre, natural history, music, Derby County and birdwatching. I am passionately interested in all mental health issues and also in animal welfare issues.
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