They told me it had spread to my lower stomach

Tue, Mar 20, 2012, 00:00

MY HEALTH EXPERIENCE: KEVIN HUMPHREYS:IT WAS 1996 and I had probably been sick from about June. It was just a sense of being unwell and some discomfort.

It was originally diagnosed as an infection and then, after about three weeks of antibiotics, I went back to my GP and she said, “Get up there and we’ll take a look.” That was a Friday.

By Monday, I was in Elm Park where they did a scan, like the jelly ultrasound they do on pregnant women. I didn’t get it finished until half six, so I said to the lady, I’d ring the consultant tomorrow to get the results, and she said, “No, he wants to come down with them now.” But it didn’t alarm me.

The consultant said, “We’ll have to investigate further and we need to get you into hospital quickly.” I explained I was a public patient and basically he said time was important. I was still planning on going to work the next day, but I got a phone call in the morning to say there was a bed for me.

My world hadn’t turned upside down at that stage because it hadn’t registered with me. I thought they were just doing a biopsy. Other than a little bit of discomfort, I was fine.

I was doing 12-hour shifts at work and I thought this was just going to be a little bit of an inconvenience. It was really only on the Wednesday night it was made clear to me it was cancer.

The anaesthetist came around to say I was going up at 7am. I asked how soon I’d know the results of the biopsy and he said it wasn’t a biopsy. Then the registrar came down and said, “There is no doubt in our mind that it is cancerous.” I was 39.

That night, I spoke to my wife Catherine and said, “Look, they think it’s cancer.” I was in hospital but she had to go home and think about it and wait for the results of the surgery, so it must have been very hard for her.

I woke up after the surgery and they told me they had got everything. They had taken a testicle but, as far as they could see, there was a spread and I’d have to go for chemotherapy. It wasn’t good news.

The ward was closing that day and they were transferring patients, but I said, “No, I’m fine, I’m leaving.” So I went home.

It had all happened so fast. My wife and the two children were at home, we went from an infection on Monday to cancer on Thursday, so I wanted to be home with them for the weekend to come to terms with it.

I didn’t feel anything about the loss of the testicle, but I deal with these things through banter and fun, such as “I’m a stone lighter.” I had a friend who is a butcher and we were joking that we’d get a bull’s ball and put it in vinegar on the mantle piece and say, “There it is!”

And your sex drive doesn’t change. There are obviously concerns, but there was no difference before and after.

But the thing is, you don’t think about the incidentals. When I came out of the operation, there was talk of survival and treatment, and there were financial worries because you are going to be out sick for quite a period, but my employer Leo Pharma was very good.

I recovered very quickly from the anaesthetic and the operation – I went to a friend’s party on the Saturday night – but psychologically it’s quite different because you are talking about your manhood.

When they told me it had spread to my lower stomach and lower lung, I was referred to Dr John Crown. The spread was a worry, but at no stage did I think it was going to beat me. I found the chemo very difficult, I was nauseous during it.

St Anne’s Ward was like a club. We all had the same illness and were going through different phases of it. It was a six-bed ward, but no one ever objected if it was someone like me coming in dehydrated – they’d stick seven beds into it because we all knew we didn’t want to go anywhere else in the hospital.

The kids were about 10 and 11 and we told them the truth. If we were going out for a walk, we’d race back to the hall door – now I was happy just to get to the hall door. I wasn’t racing anyone.

It was a tough period because the house started to move around me. For my wife, it was difficult because she’d have to plan her day around visiting me in hospital. But both our families were very good in keeping us going.

My approach to these things is that they have to be done. I had an experience four years later where my wife had an aneurysm and we were told she wasn’t going to survive, there wasn’t a question. I’ve seen it from both sides and I much prefer being the patient. She’s doing fantastic to be recovering.

I had set a target of getting back to work in January [1997] and I got back to work that month.

If you ask the question, “Am I cured?”, the answer is “You’re in remission”, but this far out, it wouldn’t be expected to come back. I’m due back now this month for my yearly check.

To this day, I can’t self-check. I just have a fear of it. I tell all the men I know, “Self-check, self-check”, but I just can’t. I’m afraid I’ll find something. Psychologically, I find it very hard.

Since the cancer, I’ve become more immediate. I was always saying at some stage I should get more involved in politics, I’d always been in the backroom.

The 1999 local elections came up and everybody told me I was mad, to mind my health, but I thought, don’t talk about it, just do it. There’s a definite period you are here, use it as best you can and stop putting things off.

Dr Crown very much cured me. At stages when I was going for check-ups and I was in local government, he’d say, “Will you ever do something about that eff-ing government?” It’s just funny that both of us ended up here in Leinster House at the same time.

My advice to anyone is to do as you’re told, put your head down and get through it. There have been huge advances in treatment and the cure rate is fantastic.

Just check yourself out once a week in the shower.

Testicle self-check: How it’s done

The best time to examine your testicles is after a warm bath or shower, when the skin of your scrotum is relaxed. Follow this procedure:

* Hold your scrotum in the palms of your hands.

* Use your fingers and thumbs on both hands to examine your testicles.

* Gently feel each testicle, one at a time, for any change in size or weight.

* The testicle itself should be smooth with no lumps or swellings.

* It is normal to feel a soft tube at the top and back of the testicle.

* It is common for one testicle to be slightly larger or to hang lower than the other.

* If you notice any swelling, lump or experience a different sensation than normal, visit your GP as soon as possible.