In 2004 I was 29 and I found a lump the size of an M&M on my testicle during a self-examination, so I panicked, stressed for a while and went to the hospital where the A&E doctor diagnosed it as a epididymal cyst and said not to worry about it. He advised if it didn’t go away, to go and see my GP. So reassured, I left, but three months later (when it hadn’t gone) my GP's first words were “that’s cancer.” It turns out it was, and in that time it had spread from my testicle to my lymph and lungs. In fact, I had 32 tumours by that point. I had to have an Orchidectomy and then chemotherapy, and after 12 weeks (4x3 week cycles) I was finally in remission by August 26th 2004.
I was bald, I’d lost 12kg of lean muscle, but I was in remission and I started to rebuild my life. All went well for a few years and then in 2007, during a regular scan, a mass was discovered in my chest that was a recurrence of the cancer. This time it was a baseball sized Rhabdomyosarcoma attached to my lung, which I had to have a lateral thoracotomy to remove. On June 6th 2007, I was in remission again.
Rebuilding my life was harder this time. I was mentally more battered, but physically still strong, but rebuild I did! I grew stronger and more resilient as the years passed.
In 2012 my blood tumour markers (AFP) started to increase again, this led to a positive diagnosis of cancer but with no source of the tumour so I had to wait until 2013 for it to show. This time it was in the lymph glands behind my stomach. That was over a year of knowing I had cancer again, for the third time, but no idea where. when it presented I had an RPLND to remove it.
By now, I’ve lost track of my remission dates as they all blur into one. I struggled post operatively after this one. The wound got infected a couple of times and I had a significant post-operative bleed which caused a number of problems. But rehabilitation continued, and physically I was able to get back to somewhere near where I was. Mentally, though, recovery was more difficult and I suffered with depression and anxiety. I could still function, but I was not right and was making some self-destructive choices. I was never able to relax as I just felt that this wasn’t the end.
In 2016 my AFP levels started to rise again and a tumour presented itself in the lymph nodes just above where the last lot had been removed and so I had another RPLND to remove it and all the lymph nodes around it. Remission again.
So 2017 and I didn’t even make a year this time before my AFP levels started to increase again. During the regular scans to try and find the cancer my PET scan showed an uptake in my bowel which as it turned out was a polyp but not a benign one, so they removed that cancer (yes you read that correctly I got cancer whilst I had cancer). The same happened in 2018, at which point I was put on TIP protocol chemotherapy, the side effect of which are a whole new level of uncomfortable compared to what I remembered from 2004,
The AFP levels dropped consistently but stopped at a still cancerous level, and then started to double weekly. The tumour was in my kidney and was now going gangbusters, so I finished chemo on March 17th and had surgery to remove my kidney and spleen.
So here I am, 6 cancers and 14 years later. What have I learned? Check yourself. If you find something, seek expert medical advice immediately.
The second thing I have learnt? Cancer sucks. Treatment sucks... but it is better than being dead (may seem obvious, but I needed to remind myself that)
Life goes on, and what you choose to do with it is on you, but own your carrot.
Cancer doesn’t build character, it reveals it.
Author credit: Jonathan Acott
For support and information visit www.malecancer.org