28 (AT THE TIME)
My journey started at the end of August, 2020 when I detected a small but hard lump on my right testicle. At first I wanted to ignore it, reassuring myself it was just some veins. Nothing unusual. However, a few days later it started to throb as though I’d copped a light flick to the testicle!
I knew it wasn’t a coincidence and decided to get an ultrasound. Intuitively I knew something was wrong and having the ultrasound confirmed this.
Sitting on the table, I watched as a mass appeared on the screen in front of me. I looked over to my girlfriend and our hearts sank.
The situation I’d found myself in was a little complicated. I’m Australian but I’m currently living in France and have been ‘trapped’ here due to the COVID pandemic. My visa has since expired, I’m not covered by any health insurance and have no way of getting home due to difficulties traveling and the restrictions imposed by the Australian government. It was a difficult pill to swallow. Being told you have testicular cancer while stuck on the other side of the planet from friends and family, in a country of which the language you barely speak! A perfect storm.
On September 20th, one week after my ultrasound I found myself in an operating theatre having an Orchiectomy. CT scans had indicated that I was still in Stage 1 as no other mass had been detected outside of the testicle.
The initial response from my urologist was to follow up the orchiectomy with one recommended cycle of BEP chemotherapy to eradicate any potentially cancerous cells floating around my body. I was relieved that I’d caught it at an early stage.
The lead up to the operation was nerve wracking. It was the first operation I’d undergone and I considered to be quite major as I was saying ‘au revoir’ to my right nut! Questions obviously arose as to how I’d still operate with just the one left, though after doing some research and reading other testicular cancer testimonies my mind was put to ease as I learnt I’d still function perfectly fine with my coin purse half full. Recovery after the Orchiectomy was about two weeks. The first few days were quite painful with limited mobility and was what I considered the closest a man will get to experiencing a C-section.
By the end of September I’d received the results from my biopsy confirming it was a non-seminoma germ cell tumor which was comprised of embryonic carcinoma cells. Following the biopsy I was contacted by my oncologist who delivered some devastating news. She stated that my blood test results indicated my tumour markers (hCg and Alpha Fetoprotein) had actually doubled after my orchiectomy. This was obviously a cause for concern as it indicated that there was another ‘undetectable’ tumor elsewhere in my body, which had rapidly began to grow. Unfortunately, this meant I’d be required to complete 3 cycles (9 weeks) of BEP, which entailed all the nasty side effects of hair loss, nausea, fatigue and that nasty metallic taste in my mouth.
Receiving this type of news away from the comforts of home, on top of all the other stresses of my situation, was heartbreaking. I cried. I let myself feel the emotions and I let it all out.
The next step was to take a deep breath, stick my chest out and focus on what I needed to do.
I’ve always considered myself an optimistic person, believing I was sent a challenge that would only make me stronger and would aid me in my development and growth as a person. I believe it’s important to keep a positive mindset when the universe delivers an uppercut! We don’t always have a choice in the situations we find ourselves in but we always have a choice in how we approach it, which makes all the difference!
By November 2020 I’d begun my first cycle of BEP. The first cycle (1 week in the hospital, 2 weeks at home) wasn’t too bad. I felt a little fatigued, slightly nauseous but it was nothing unexpected or that I couldn’t handle. I’ve always been a fairly active person. Exercise and eating healthy have always been key elements throughout my life. This was no different when I was undergoing chemotherapy and I kept myself active in the off periods at home which made all the difference. It enabled me to process any anxiety I was feeling, whilst enabling me to keep my body and mind strong throughout my treatment. It wasn’t until my third cycle that my body had begun to hit a brick wall. The last cycle was definitely the toughest as the toxicity from the chemotherapy had accumulated in my system and my body’s cells weren’t bouncing back as fast. It was tough. I spent a good part of a week retching and throwing up. It was difficult to eat and drink and I was extremely uncomfortable. It took a period of almost two weeks to begin to recover from my last cycle but by the end of December I had completed all three cycles of BEP. On January 8, 2021 I had a CT scan and my final consultation with my oncologist. The results were phenomenal, showing that my blood pathology had returned negative results and there were no signs of tumours elsewhere in my body. It was declared that I was in remission and cancer free, leaving cancer behind in 2020!
My journey through testicular cancer definitely taught me a lot. It strengthened my belief in myself, reminded me to cherish my health and to celebrate my body as it’s an amazing vessel and gift. It also brought to light that this type of disease is really common for men between the ages of 15-35, yet I felt there was very little discussion around this and I wasn’t taught the importance of checking in and feeling my nuts at least once a month! It drove me to record my journey through instagram to help educate and raise awareness in the hopes that it would save someone else’s life, or at least bring these types of issues to the forefront of thinking and conversation. I believe more men should feel comfortable speaking about the issues that plague their health, whether they’re physical or mental. It’s extremely important that we as men, begin breaking down the stigma of having to ‘grin and bear it’. Speaking to others and being vulnerable about our issues (especially the ones about our nuts) isn’t a weakness nor does it make you a ‘pussy’. This type of rhetoric is not only toxic but it hurts ourselves and others who might be struggling with similar issues. We must work together to create safe spaces where men can discuss physical and mental health issues without fear of judgement. It could literally save their lives.