It’s been a while since I wrote the last blog, mainly because there wasn’t much to write about following the surgery and immediate recovery. What there is worth writing about isn’t exactly positive either. From the start, I’ve tried to remain upbeat, constructive and good-humoured for one primary reason. If anyone else out there is going through something similar and reads this blog, I want it to remain positive and optimistic for them. I don’t want to wallow in self pity or create the feeling of doom and gloom when sharing my experiences. If you are going through something similar, I highly doubt that you want to hear this.
Trying to be up-front, honest and humorous is my way of dealing with the situation and normalising it, for myself and anyone else reading this. It is a good coping mechanism, or at least I thought so. I have mentioned some of the darker times of being treated for testicular cancer and tried to provide advice on how to deal with these moments. In truth, in my attempt to remain positive, I haven’t strictly told all when it comes to the moments of feeling low. I have omitted a few details.
For example, about 2 or 3 days before my surgery, I had a bad work-related phone call. Nothing major, just one of those ball busting calls. After I hung up the phone, I snapped and dismantled my office. Not a professional office, it’s my own back-bedroom office at home where I have been working for the last year and a half. When I say dismantled, I mean I flipped it upside down and completely tore it apart. The only thing left in its place was the wallpaper. Totally irrational.
I’m talking proper spit your dummy out, mardy bum tantrum. Everything was hurled across the room. The type of rage where you empty a stapler of all its staples first, throw them at the wall, and then throw the stapler. Then stand on one of the staples, hop around in pain, decide it’s the storage container’s fault, and then boot that across the room too.
It had nothing to do with the call. I’m not proud of it. It was extremely childish and not worth the 2-hour clean-up time. I didn’t mention this before because I didn’t think hearing about my tantrum would add any value to the story or help anyone else in a similar situation.
However, now I feel it is important to be honest because it has happened more than once.
Dealing with the Pressure
The waiting time between my surgery and receiving any sort of results or indication of what is happening next has been torture. In truth, it really hasn’t been that long, but when it gets to the point where you are wishing days away just to hear some results, it does become very difficult. Unfortunately, during this time, I let this pressure and various stigmas around testicular cancer get the best of me.
I have a great support network around me and they have all been amazing. As the saying goes, you take your frustrations out on the closest people to you. In my case this was certainly true, as during one of my low moments, I used my most supportive person more as a lightning rod than a rock. I made a mistake and directed verbal frustration at the wrong person, the one that I love and appreciate most. The situation and fall-out that occurred would not have done so in normal circumstances. As much as I thought I was okay and taking this all in my stride, no one is unbreakable and we all have our limits. Perhaps being too positive about this situation meant that I was bottling up the bad thoughts and feelings, which is never a good idea. Who knows? What is clear is that support is required.
Use the Support Networks
So, the first and most important take away from this blog is to make sure you use the support networks available to you. This means seeking wider support away from your friends and family. There will be things you will not want to talk about, or not be able to find the answers to, around non-medical people who have not been through this.
In the last couple of weeks I have been in touch with some amazing charities and organisations that are raising awareness for testicular cancer and supporting those who have or have had it. Visit the Get Involved page to find out more. There are also NHS services out there that can help you through this, as well as lots of Facebook groups with active and supportive communities ready to answer any questions you may have.
Remember, talking is important, both within your close circle and externally with medical professionals and/or supportive organisations. It’s also important to remember your loved ones are going through this with you, so lean with them, not on them.
This wasn’t my only mistake this week. I also angered my wound. And myself. I went against the doctors’ advice (and against my own advice in previous blogs) and didn’t take it easy. It wasn’t all my fault in fairness. Sailor Jerry, Jack Daniels and some Russian standard fella were all partly to blame too. The beer gardens are open and the weather has been glorious. Two weeks after my surgery I felt completely fine again. The wound was healing nicely and I was able to walk around with no problems.
Naturally, I thought a few scoops in the sun wouldn’t hurt. A few led to a few more, which led to a mini pub crawl and me walking around more than I should. Being slightly intoxicated meant I was unaware of my belt rubbing back and forth against my scar as I stumbled around town like a moron. The next morning I woke up to a weeping wound, showing yellowish signs of infection. Superb. A trip to the local walk in clinic and a dose of antibiotics – what a total idiot I am. One drunken night set me back at least 3 days with recovery. I should be used to that by now but still, this time I disappointed myself!
The second take away point from this blog – even after 2 or 3 weeks you really should not walk around much. It’s hard not to aggravate your wound when it sits right on your waistline. This is highly annoying! You’re going to find it hard walking around with bottoms on. Even loose elasticated joggers will still rub against your wound and pull against the stitches. You should stay inside and stay naked, or if that’s not a pretty sight, sit around in your dressing gown or something similar.
Alternatively, you can opt for a sarong or skirt that sits above your waistline like I did. Not one for being easily embarrassed (and why should I – it’s 2021) this meant I could still walk my dog (steadily) and get out in the sun, which was nice. Plus the breeze was liberating. Honestly fellas, give it a go. I’ve never felt freedom like it. I’m in the market for a few more. I thought my partner would be mortified and refuse to come on the walk with me. To her credit, except when taking this picture, she was by my side the whole way.
There is some positivity in this blog, don’t worry! The day of my CT scan was Wednesday 21 March. On this day, I also got to hear the results of my blood tests and the histology report on my tumour. Extremely nerve racking! I so desperately wanted to hear the results, but at the same time I was incredibly nervous about them at the same time. You want to know but you don’t. It’s weird!
The day started with a CT scan. The purpose of the scan is to check to see if the cancer has spread anywhere else in the body. I had to lie on a bed in front of a big doughnut-looking machine and raise my hands above my head. A contrast dye was injected into my bloodstream, which provides a clearer picture for specialists to analyse and check for any issues.
The nurse said to me, “With this dye you will feel a slight warming sensation, as well as a bad taste at the back of your mouth and the feeling like you’ve wet yourself.” So just an average Saturday night then, bring it on!
The nurse and the specialist retreat into a back room and close the door. They conduct the scan from there, moving the bed back and forth through the scanner, moving me in and out of the scanner’s circular hole. If you’ve ever had an MRI scan before, it is essentially the same thing just a lot quicker, a lot easier and a lot less claustrophobic. I was told to hold my breath a few times as the bed glided me in and out of the doughnut, but the whole thing was over in a matter of minutes.
Germ Cell Department
Next, I saw the germ cell team. Germ cells are the reproductive cells of your body. So for blokes germ cells are your sperm cells, and for women it means the egg cells. The doctor here gave my balls and my scar a quick look to make sure all was well. He took both testicles in his hands and gave them a little rub and squeeze.
Squeezing my left (human) testicle made me wince and twitch a little bit, naturally. Squeezing my right (prosthetic) testicle was totally strange and completely different. I could feel the pressure of the squeeze but not the discomfort. It was like when you go to the dentist and have your mouth numbed before treatment. You can feel the pressure against you, without actually feeling it. That’s how my right ball feels now and it’s taking some getting used to. I sort of liked it. I should have asked him to knock it about a bit, get freaky with it.
Blood Test Results
Once he was satisfied that my balls were in good condition and I was healing nicely, the doctor then spoke to me about my blood test results. The proteins and blood markers that were raised before I had my tumour removed have since returned back to normal. Yes! Excellent news! This isn’t comprehensive proof of whether or not I am over the other side, but it does provide a positive indication things are getting better. I am not getting too excited yet, this is extremely good news, but not the end of my results just yet.
One of these blood markers is the same protein that tells a woman if she is pregnant or not. So interestingly, if I had taken a pregnancy test (for whatever reason) 3 or 4 weeks ago, it would have told me I am expecting! Imagine how confusing that would have been!
Lastly, we discussed my tumour and the histology report. This is where it gets interesting and extremely mind boggling at the same time. My tumour was a mixture of a seminoma and a non-seminoma. See the Testicular Cancer page for more information on the different types. If you cast your mind back to my very first blog – Noticing the Lump – I told you that my lump grew to the size of a tangerine before it was removed. The histology report shows that the actual tumour itself was only 1.5cm long. One point five centimetres! Are you kidding me!?
For the best part of a fortnight it felt and looked like I was carrying around a handful of loose change in my coin purse. This doctor has the audacity to tell me it was only the size of a five pence piece. Unbelievable Geoff. Utterly confused! After some explanation from the doctor all became clear.
Around 80% to 90% of the mass I felt in my testicle was actually just swelling and my body’s natural response to the tumour. It wasn’t actually the tumour itself. Which is baffling because it was rock solid! This is the reason why the lump grew in size so fast. It was not the tumour growing, it was my body’s reaction to it that caused the swelling. Phew! This is the body’s way of telling you something is wrong and, ultimately, the reason why I picked up the phone and called my GP. Thank God for swelling! I don’t think I would have noticed something 1.5cm long otherwise!
All of the specialists that I have seen or been involved with my treatment will all get together at some point this week to discuss my case. Almost like a task force meeting, where each of them will share their views and professional opinions on what is best for me. They will take my histology report, blood test results and CT scan results into consideration during this meeting.
From what I understand, my personal situation has 3 possible outcomes:
- I am clear and put under surveillance for 3 to 5 years, with regular check-ups to see if the cancer returns or not.
- I am given adjuvant treatment before surveillance, which is basically one course of non-intensive chemotherapy to reduce the risk of cancer coming back.
- Full course of chemotherapy or radiotherapy, which could last up to or above 9 weeks, to remove cancer from elsewhere in my body.
I will find out the results of this and see what the plan is going forward on Wednesday 28 April. Wish me luck folks! I am absolutely bricking it! Speak to you again soon when I know more!