Health Experience: Testicular cancer didn’t stop me having a child
Early detection meant fewer complications for me, and no effect on fertility
Graeme Singleton with his wife, Grace, and their son, Lee. ‘When we started trying [for a baby], we expected to conceive straight away and when it didn’t happen, I really began to worry.’
I first noticed my testicle was swollen and uncomfortable around the end of February, 2014. I thought it was a sports-related injury as I had recently had a painful blow in the groin from a football, so I didn’t think much of it as I presumed it would take care of itself.
I wasn’t in any pain whatsoever, but it just felt uncomfortable to wear jeans and it was difficult to find a comfortable sitting position.
So, with a classic Irish male mentality, I ignored it for about a month but it got bigger and more uncomfortable as the weeks went by. I decided at this stage to bypass my doctor and go to casualty at St Vincent’s Hospital – our wedding was looming and I wanted to get it sorted as soon as possible.
In the past I had a condition called epididymitis (inflammation at the back of the testicle) which was cured with an antibiotic jab, so when I went to the hospital, I thought this would be what I was prescribed.
I had a long wait in A&E before finally getting seen. The doctor took blood and urine samples and asked me to come back for an ultrasound a few days later.
After this scan, I was sent back down to the waiting area to wait for the results. I still thought I had something that would be sorted with a course of antibiotics and was on my own when they told me it was more serious and could possibly even be cancer. My initial reaction was disbelief as all I could think of was that I was getting married in a month.
I couldn’t comprehend what was happening and it wasn’t until later when my fiancee, Grace, arrived that the doctor confirmed it was actually testicular cancer. After this sank in, I began to feel afraid and then angry, but the most overriding feeling was an urgency to get it sorted.
I was told I had to stay in hospital and would need surgery to remove the testicle. I was happy to go ahead if it meant I would retain my good health. I was asked would I like a prosthetic, but in the same sentence, I was also told all the things that could go wrong with it so I respectfully declined.
The operation lasted about two hours. When I came round afterwards I felt very sick and cold, so was put on a drip. After a sleep I felt a bit better and wasn’t in too much pain – I had a bit of tightness around the scarring and was told I had to keep that area really clean in case of infection.
When I had recovered enough, I was sent for a CT scan and had more bloods taken. And when I got the results the next day, they showed that the tumour markers in the bloods had gone down and there was no sign of anything in the scan.
This was brilliant news as it meant they had got the cancer in time and, with luck, I wouldn’t need chemo or radiation – but that wouldn’t be confirmed until after the wedding.
Thankfully our big day went ahead as planned but unfortunately we had to cancel our honeymoon to Vietnam due to the risk of infection and the complications a long-haul flight might cause.
My surgery was four weeks before the wedding and while we had already cancelled the honeymoon, just two days before I got married we were told that I could go on a short-haul flight to Europe. This was great news but before I would be allowed to go, I had to return to the hospital to see if I needed any treatment before travelling.
As soon as we heard we could go abroad, we started researching and organised a last-minute honeymoon to Italy. And thankfully when I went back to the hospital to get checked out before the flight, I was advised there would be no chemo or radiation and that I would get by with surveillance, scans and blood tests.
Looking back I was very lucky as it could have been a lot worse.
Because of the nature of my surgery, I naturally worried about having children. I went to the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin to have some sperm samples taken and frozen in case I needed chemo or radiation – which is an option available to all cancer patients. I also underwent a fertility test which revealed that I should be fine to have children.
However, there was still a worry in the back of my mind. When we started trying, we expected to conceive straight away and when it didn’t happen, I really began to worry.
But after a few months, Grace came to me with the wonderful news that she was pregnant. Suffice it to say we were both over the moon, as were our respective families. Our son Lee was born on July 6th at 6.37pm weighing 7lb 15oz.
I am 33 now, and I am in good health. I have been going for CT scans and blood tests every three to six months since the surgery and, thankfully, all have been clear. There’s still a sense of fear every time I go back for results as I keep thinking that something [sinister] is going to show up.
But I have decided that there is no point in worrying unless I have something to actually worry about. And if there’s one thing I took from my experience it’s that if you have any doubt about anything with your health, go get it checked. I was very lucky it was caught in time: I was seen quickly and because of that there were fewer complications and treatments needed.
I count my blessings every day. My wife, Grace, and my main man Lee are the best things that have ever happened to me and I’m enjoying every moment with them.
In conversation with Arlene Harris