On May 25th, 2013 my life changed forever. I was diagnosed with testicular cancer. We were six days away from heading out on our first family vacation to Disney World when I found a lump in my right testicle.
It was about the size of a marble. I'd noticed my testicle had unexpectedly dropped as well - it felt like it wasn't attached as it was supposed to be.
I went to my doctor's office in Wingham, who, following a series of expedited ultrasounds and blood tests was able to confirm the bad news. I indeed had testicular cancer. I had surgery to remove the cancerous testicle on June 3rd, 2013. By my surgery date - one month later - the tumour had doubled in size.
Once the initial shock started to wear off the obvious concern was whether the cancer had spread. I wouldn't find out until the day of my surgery that it hadn't.
I wouldn't need chemo or radiation, just a couple months of surgery, recovery and 10 years of monitoring at the London Regional Cancer Centre. It's where I go every two months for check ups - blood tests and x-rays to ensure that the cancer hasn't returned.
The recurrence rates for testicular cancer patients are highest in the first two years after surgery. A team of specialists, led by Dr.Scott Ernst, look after southwestern Ontario's testicular cancer patients.
Ernst, chief of medical oncology with the London Regional cancer program, says "It's relatively rare, but it is the commonest solid tumour cancer of young men. So we see several men with a new diagnosis here every month.”
Between 900 and 1,000 Canadian men will get the news I got this year. Many will be much younger than me.
The danger zone for developing testicular cancer is 19-35, but Patrick McAuliffe, the primary nurse in the testicular cancer unit at the London Health Sciences Centre, says he's seeing more high school aged patients than ever before.
"My youngest is 15 in my clinic and imagine him going up to his mom saying, ‘You know, there’s something not right there.’ They’re very shy because they're at that age."
McAuliffe has coined the phrases 'Testicle Tuesdays' and 'Touch it Thursdays' to encourage men to do regular self exams, just as women have been conditioned to check themselves for breast cancer.
So what should men be looking for?
- A largely painless and persistent lump or hard spot in your testicle
- A feeling of heaviness or aching in the lower abdomen and/or scrotum
- A swollen testicle or feeling like your testicle has 'dropped'
If cancer cells do not spread beyond the testicle the survival rate is 99 per cent, making testicular cancer one of the most curable cancers on the planet.
But early detection is the difference between surgery and recovery - like me - or chemotherapy,radiation and radical lymph node removal surgery, which too many men have to endure either because they don't know what to look for or wait too long before seeing their doctor.
Ernst say "It's a very important cancer to detect because it’s very treatable. It's really important for guys who notice a change to get it checked out. The sooner it's identified, usually the better the outcome."
Coming up in part two: I'll introduce you to my testicular cancer support group as well as a 17-year-old testicular cancer survivor from London who nearly didn't make it.