'I had assumed they could just remove the growth'
HEALTH EXPERIENCE:In all three times I have been diagnosed I thought, okay, I have cancer, let’s get on with it
I was 31 when first diagnosed with testicular cancer. That was 2008 and since then I have had two further diagnoses of the same disease.
Four years ago I noticed a swelling in my left testicle, there was no pain so I just presumed it would go away. I went to my GP who initially diagnosed a viral infection.
However, over the next few days it got a lot worse so I was referred to St James’s Hospital. Two months after my first appointment with the urology department, I was diagnosed with testicular cancer.
In November 2008, I remember the date well because it was the day after my birthday, I had an operation to have my left testicle removed. The following January I began a month’s radiotherapy.
The treatment went well and for the rest of 2009 and 2010 I was cancer free. Then in September 2011 another swelling appeared, this time in my right testicle.
The cancer was back. I had another operation to remove the right testicle and because I had radiation in 2008 I couldn’t get it again, so this time I underwent chemotherapy.
The chemotherapy went ahead in December 2011 after which everything seemed okay. However, in May this year I went for what I thought was just a regular check-up, and was told there was a new growth in the area where my testicle had been removed. So it was back into chemotherapy for June and July. Treatment finished two months ago.
When I was first diagnosed I was working in the construction industry and was very busy so I didn’t really think about it.
To be honest, I don’t know whether it was because I didn’t allow myself to think about it, or whether I actually didn’t have the time to think about it.
I had assumed that they could just remove the cancer or the growth. It wasn’t until I was admitted that I realised I was going to lose a testicle. I remember the doctor saying to me: “You’re remarkably calm about all this, do you really understand what’s happening?” He explained it and by then it was too late to worry, it was going ahead the next day.
In all three times I have been diagnosed what I really thought was, okay, I have cancer, let’s get on with it. I have always been adamant that it is not going to stop me, or affect me. I was going to tackle it and move on. I drew huge inspiration from my mother who has also had cancer. She went through a heavy regime of chemotherapy and radiotherapy and the strength she showed was remarkable.
I was very lucky that my cancer was caught early. Throughout my many hospital stays I have met people who let it go, some for up to two years before they did anything about it. Their chances of getting through were slim.
There were times when I was worried but I remember a friend saying that out of all the cancers I could have got, wasn’t I lucky I got this one, which is very true.
Of all the treatments I endured over the past four years I think the chemotherapy was the worst. I had been told about side effects but I didn’t fully appreciate how my body would react to the tiredness and sickness. I would always have been very active and couldn’t understand how I could be so exhausted just from lying on the bed. The effort it would take just to get up and walk about amazed me and still does today. There are times when this wave of tiredness hits me even now.
I can only talk about testicular cancer. I have no experience of any other cancer but if caught early, it is treatable and you can recover and then lead a perfectly normal life.
I remember during the first check-up following my initial operation the doctor said “if you were a woman you would have so many options of counselling services and organisations to approach but unfortunately as a male you probably don’t”, and that is very true. I think there is more of a stigma surrounding the “t” word than the “c” word. I have no problem with it, but for men in general unless you have had testicular cancer, I think you would be very reluctant to talk about it.
For example, I imagine it would be hard for a guy to approach his friend and say he’s noticed that one of his testicles is swollen. I can’t see that coming up as easily as maybe a woman saying to her sister or friend that she’s noticed a lump in her breast.
There is a need for increased awareness about testicular cancer as well as counselling and psychological support for men who have received a diagnosis. I was never offered anything like that.
One positive thing to come out of my cancer experience was that in 2011 I set up my own company, smallchanges.ie, selling a range of eco-friendly products and energy-saving devices.
The idea of the company came to me when I was first diagnosed. While the doctors couldn’t say that there was a particular aspect to my lifestyle that caused it, I began to look at things I could control.
I wanted to limit my exposure to chemicals as much as I could and the logical thing seemed to be to remove as many as I could from my home. So I began using eco-friendly products.
It was only when I tried sourcing them that I realised they were very expensive and weren’t always readily available.
So I devised the idea of setting up a business that would provide these products easily, at a reasonable price. The message we are trying to get across is that if we all make one small change, it can have a far greater impact than just a minority making huge changes.
I am currently doing very well but still going back for regular check-ups. I would be positive at this point as I can’t get testicular cancer again. Relatively speaking, I lead a healthy lifestyle, so I approach each check-up with optimism.
I have got nothing but praise for everybody in the health service who I encountered throughout my journey. The care I received was excellent. The support I received from my partner, Niamh, and family and friends was fantastic. Without that I would have found it very difficult.
The idea that I was setting up smallchanges.iealso kept me going. It helped that I always had a goal to achieve. We knew that whenever I got better again this was where I was going to be.
In conversation with JUNE SHANNON