Finding out I have a testicular tumour happened in 3 stages and involved 3 different specialists. I say testicular tumour instead of cancer purposefully because although it is more than likely, at the time of writing it has not been confirmed that the tumour is cancer. This will not be completely confirmed until after I have the testicle removed – ironically! More on that later…
To explain the process it makes sense to take you through each of the 3 stages.
1. GP Appointment
I have recently moved home, well, within the last year. I have registered with my GP surgery but I have never visited it. Thankfully, I have had no reason to go up until recently, which means I had never met my GP before. As we’re in lockdown, I had to have a phone call with him first to explain my situation. He sounded nice, young and distinctly Irish. That soft, tippy-toe Irish accent that makes you feel as though everything is going to be alright.
I explained the situation the same way I did in the previous blog, Noticing the Lump. The doctor said I should go in to see him, and so off I went. When I got to my appointment, I met my GP face-to-face and he was as nice and approachable as he was on the phone. Perfect!
Showing My Testicles Part 1
He asked me to drop my pants and lie back on a bed whilst he examined my testicles. He did so very quickly and professionally. I felt totally at ease, except at one point when my balls were in his hand.
He said, “Nice to finally meet you in the flesh Mr Arnison-Phillips.” I kid you not! With my balls in his hand! I didn’t know whether to laugh or choke.
Anyway, aside from that minor slip of the tongue, the experience was relatively quick and straight forward. That may have a lot to do with the fact my testicle was the size of a Cadbury’s crème egg by then and just as hard. The doctor didn’t need to do much probing to see there was a problem. In truth, his job was an easy one and the advice was simple – I needed an ultrasound scan.
2. Ultrasound Scan
The waiting time between being referred from my GP and getting my ultrasound scan appointment was surprisingly quick. It was roughly a week, give or take a few days. I was told this would be the case due to the seriousness of the situation. Also, hospitals are generally trying to avoid patients who aren’t suffering with COVID-19 these days, so wards are less occupied.
Did this have a large influence into me getting my appointment within a week, who knows? It may always be this quick for everyone, with or without a pandemic, due to the risk of cancer. So, off I go for my ultrasound scan at a local dental surgery – of all the places! This was one of the closest places to me with appointments available within the week that had all the kit needed to carry out an ultrasound. I sat for 10 minutes in the waiting room before being called in by two very lovely, very chatty and welcoming nurses.
Showing My Testicles Part 2
This time, the instructions were more detailed in regard to dropping my pants and lying down. The nurse told me, very specifically, to drop my pants only to knee level and no further. There is a piece of blue tissue paper on the bed. She tells me to use that to cover my manhood (not the term she used) and as I lie down, she asks me to hold my penis aside out of the way.
I am generally not an easy person to embarrass. The tissue looked a bit pathetic, but I get why it is offered. Holding my penis I am fine with, in fact probably more comfortable with. But I think I speak for every man when I say there is nothing that looks or feels more ridiculously seedy than having your pants around your knees. Pants around your ankles in general is degrading enough, but with a tatty piece of tissue over your cherub it’s a whole different ball game (excuse the pun). I would rather just take them off to be honest with you!
Anyway, back to the scan and the gel…the cold, cold gel! It’s alright after a while but the first lick of petroleum jelly on your ball sack is refreshing to say the least. This was a morning appointment, if I wasn’t awake before, I certainly was after that. After you get past the coldness and the feel of your belt buckle around your knees, the experience is a doddle. No way near as awkward or embarrassing as you imagine it would be! This is your first time here and it’s strange, but for the nurse this is probably the 9th set of balls she’s seen this month and it’s completely normal.
The nurse chatted to me throughout and made sure I was comfortable with every step. She clicked away on her machine as her hand moved a computer-mouse looking thing across my testicles. It was actually pretty cool seeing my boys up on the big screen! Famous! Before I left, I also had a scan of my liver and spleen, but I was out in around 20 minutes or so.
3. See a Urologist
The next stage is to see a urologist – a specialist that diagnoses and treats disorders of the kidneys, bladder, ureters, prostate and male reproductive organs. On Wednesday 17 March, I went to a different hospital to a specialist urology department. I was told by the nurses at my ultrasound that this is where I would find out the results of my scan.
The specialist I met here was much more straight forward in his approach. He was much more of a bloke’s bloke. A no nonsense guy. He was huge too, with a domineering presence. He struck me as the sort of medical professional that was long in the tooth and was starting to feel the strain of a long career looking at other men’s balls. Either that or he hated the people he worked with. This isn’t an assumption, it’s an observation.
At one point in our consultation, he suddenly sprang from his chair and bellowed out the door, “Whichever moron is banging doors out here can you please stop the relentless racket, I am talking to a patient!”
I wouldn’t mess with this guy. Nevertheless, he was nothing but nice to me and explained everything very clearly, not before fondling my balls first, of course.
Showing My Testicles Part 3
In keeping with his no-nonsense manner, the specialist simply said, “Lie down there, pop your trousers off and let’s have a look.” I did as I was told and he examined the lump. He also felt around my collarbone area and my groin. This examination was much more detailed than the first one, which was reassuring.
After he’d seen and felt enough, he told me to put my trousers back on and take a seat as he brought up my ultrasound results. Still, even at this point, I was convinced that the lump I had found was caused by a strain or some form of physical stress resulting from my workout regime. This was not the case. The specialist leaned forward in his chair and told me that he thinks I have a testicular tumour.
Being Told You Have a Tumour
It’s funny, beforehand when I’ve ever thought about it before, or spoke to someone else with an experience of cancer, I imagined what my reaction might be if I was told I had a tumour. You would think that it would feel like the world is caving in on you. I certainly imagined that to be the case.
It wasn’t like that for me. Perhaps it had something to do with the man I was talking to. The urologist was very matter of fact and straight talking. He wasn’t blunt or cold, but he didn’t talk with sympathy either, or sugar coat anything. He said it how it is and looking back I really appreciated that. It made me hold myself in a similar conduct and allowed me to take everything he said as it came to me.
With that being said, I didn’t take in very much. The only way I can describe how I felt was stunned. I didn’t feel like the world was ending, I just felt jarred. There was a brief moment where I didn’t take a word in at all. The specialist was talking but the room was silently spinning around my head. It was completely surreal. Behind a face mask there is only your eyes to focus on when someone is talking to you. I put most of my efforts and attention during that 10 minute conversation into trying not to well up.
From my ultrasound scan and his examination, the specialist is 80-90% sure I have a testicular tumour at this point. I had thousands of questions but they all clogged up in what was now my very busy and panicking mind. The first question I had was – does a tumour mean cancer? It’s the first question I could get out my mouth.
He tells me it is not always the case, but in his professional opinion it is more than likely. He tells me I will need to do a blood test and have a chest x-ray immediately, and that I will need to have surgery to remove the testicle, hopefully within the week.
My head falls off and rolls out the door. Excuse me? Remove my testicle? Within the week!? The specialist explains that the blood test can show if I have cancer related chemicals in my blood, known as markers. This may provide a more conclusive answer as to whether the tumour is cancerous. The x-ray will show if anything has spread to the lungs or collarbone area, because this is where testicular cancer usually spreads next, weirdly enough!
However, the only way to truly tell if it is cancer, and what stage the cancer is at, is to remove the tumour and examine it. It isn’t possible to remove just a part of the tumour, so the whole testicle must come out. So your ball must be removed before it can be truly diagnosed. Divine irony!
We spent the last part of the consultation talking about relevant charities and sources of information I can access. He could tell I wasn’t taking much in and was probably used to that. He offered to call me in a couple days’ time to repeat what he has said and talk about my blood test results. The advice was to talk to my family and friends and let it sink in, which was decent advice. We finished up and I was directed to go for my blood test.
One of the Worst Days of My Life
The worst part about this day was going for that blood test and x-ray. Both departments are in opposite ends of the hospital, meaning I had to walk for 5 minutes or so between each building. I was on my own. I had just been told I had cancer. Tears were making the top of my face mask wet and I had not a clue where I was going. I was completely and utterly shell-shocked.
I can’t explain how I felt walking around outside, looking at the same scenery I walked through before entering the hospital, but having a totally different experience of it. On the inside I’m screaming but on the outside I’m trying to keep it together, because there’s lots of other people around, many of whom look more ill than I do. When I eventually found the bloods department I slumped down onto a chair in the waiting room and stared blankly at a wall.
I felt incredibly lonely but at the same time wanted to be somewhere else by myself. I felt small. Well and truly crestfallen. The wind was taken out of my sails and was being blown back in my face. I didn’t feel or hear the wind, it was deadly silent, but the force of it well and truly sat me down.
I wouldn’t wish that feeling on my worst enemy. I waited 15 minutes to be called, but it felt like I had days’ worth of thoughts running through my head.
My heart goes out to anyone who has ever been in this position or if you ever have to experience it in the future. I won’t lie, the first hour after finding out is not nice. It’s bloody horrible.
The Doom and Gloom Doesn’t Last
Everyone is different and will deal with their own medical issues differently. The first hour was the worst part for me, but I can’t speak for everyone. Since finding out, talking to my friends and family has made me accept the situation and be more positive about it.
In the next blog I will talk some more about the end of that hospital visit, leaving the hospital and the initial reaction to finding out I have cancer. Writing this blog was difficult as thinking of how I felt that day made me upset several times over. I promise you the next blog will be more positive! I hope you enjoyed this read and found it insightful or helpful at the same time.
Keep a lookout for the next one and if you would like some more information on the subject, visit the Testicular Cancer page.