My name is John and I am 36 years old. My TC story began in September 1995...
There I was having just taken a shower when I noticed that one of my testicals had shrunk. Well that's not entirely true. I suppose every guy imagines that certain parts of their anatomy are actually much larger than they really are -- I too was a legend in my own mind. Actually it was my right testicle, it was much larger than what it should have been. What was surprising was that there was absolutely no pain what-so-ever.
"What the hell is this?", I thought. I showed my girlfriend, Louise and she thought I should go and see a doctor. The next morning Louise asked me about it. As far as I was concerned it was just a little bit of swelling and it would go away after a while. All it needed was just some tender love and affection. Hey, I'll try anything for sex!
Well the next thing I knew Louise had picked up the phone and called the Doctor. My appointment was made for the next day. As we had just moved to Sydney, this was a Doctor that I had not seen before. You can imagine my surprise when I turned up to see in large letters on the office window that this Doctor specialised in Womens issues. "Great!", I thought, "What is she going to know about grossly enlarged testicles?" Well I dropped my trousers (as any self respecting male would do in front of a female doctor) and was up on the bench. A quick feel, a quick grope and an "Umm" later she suggested that I go and get an ultrasound.
So off I went up the road to the x-ray center. At this stage the dreaded word CANCER was not even on my mind. I was asked to drop my pants again. (I've never had to drop my pants so many times in one day for so many people. I wish my girlfriend was just as demanding.) "Would it be OK if we were joined by a trainee technician?" asked the Radiologist. "Yeah sure.", I thought and turned around. It was another woman. Well I didn't care, by now everyone was getting to take a look.
Anyway the next thing I felt was this gooey stuff being smeared across my scrotum. Actually to tell you the truth it didn't feel all that bad. I could see the technicians looking at the screen, moving the equipment around (no not mine, the ultrasound) checking each testicle and pointing to the screen highlighting different things. I didn't understand what they were saying. Most of it was in 'radiology speak'. Once finished I was allowed to wipe the jelly off and put my clothes back on. The radiologist asked me if I was going straight back to the Doctor and then along with my x-rays and report I trundled back to see the Doc again. Even now I was still not thinking anything worse than perhaps an infection or some other minor ailment.
I walked into the Doctor's office to find the Doc in the waiting room. She was waiting for me. She politely asked me to come into her office and I followed. She didn't even open up the envelope with the x-ray and report. She had already received a phone call from the Radiology center. "Well I'm afraid it is the worst." she said. "You have a mestasis in the right testicle." "The worst?", I thought. "What's a mestasis?" Well I never did Mestasis 101 at school. What the hell was that? Boy was I stupid. "What is a mestasis?" I asked. "CANCER", she replied. It hung in the air like death for a few seconds. A few seconds which seemed an eternity.
This was it I thought: I am going to die. It didn't help a great deal when the Doc almost broke into tears. Obviously she didn't have a great deal of experience telling someone that they have cancer. Well I asked her what do I do next. She answered that I had to be referred to a Urologist. She proceeded to call up several Urologists that she either knew or had numbers for. My position was not helped a great deal when all I could hear from her when she spoke to them to arrange an appointment was "No, I think it is more urgent than that." You can imagine the thoughts that were going through my mind. She was trying to arrange an appointment, obviously not having a great deal of success in getting one quickly and I'm thinking I'm going to die! How urgent could this be? If I don't get someone to do something quickly I'm just going to drop dead.
Finally I had an appointment setup for the Monday afternoon. This was Friday so I had the whole weekend to do nothing but think about it. Great. I remember going to the movies that night to see Apollo 13. I needed to get my mind off things but it didn't work. I don't remember a thing about that movie at all. It's amazing what goes through your mind. I obviously didn't want to die but I was more concerned about the people I would leave behind. I had a little girl who was four from a previous marriage and I was concerned that she would be alright. How could my friends and family cope without me. I'll have to arrange the funeral, make sure all my insurance was paid up etc etc etc.
It was the longest weekend of my life. I couldn't wait to get in and see the Urologist. I just wanted to get things moving. Well the Urologist was fantastic. He just had exactly the attitude I neeed. He was upbeat and full of enthusiasm. He asked me to explain to him what had happened which I did, had a look at the report and the x-rays and then said the obvious.
"Drop your pants so I can take a look."
Here I go again. If there was anyone in Sydney who hadn't taken a look by now then they just weren't in the right circle. He was pretty convinced that it was a tumor. Not much doubt as far as he was concerned. He then went on to explain what was next. The testicle had to be removed and then based upon some further tests we'll have to see what happens next. I was booked into the hospital to have the operation the next day. The whole time I was with him he was explaining everything and telling me that this disease was very curable. His words were "Not that any cancer is good but if you were going to have cancer, this is the one you would pick." I think that was very important for my own peace of mind. Straight after that appointment I had to have a blood test for the usual markers - BetaHCG, LDH and Alpha Fetoprotein along with a chest x-ray and CT-scan.
The next day I was in the hospital. As I was being wheeled into the operating theater the Urologist told me that my scans were clear. That was some good news and kept me in the right spirits. An hour or so later I was awake. Just a little lighter for the trouble as well. I always wanted to lose some weight although this was not exactly what I had in mind!
I stayed in hospital for one night and was back home by lunch time the next day. Walking around was not all that easy. Actually I'm really not sure that it could even be called walking. More like a slight shuffle. The pain was not unbearable, just awkward. The first thing I had on my mind was whether or not what was left still worked. As you can imagine I was quite pleased that night when Louise offered to test the 'modified version'. I was relieved to find that the plumbing was still in relatively good shape. I guess that by now if you're still reading this you can understand what is high on my list of priorities...
The next few weeks were spent getting further blood tests and another chest x-ray and CT-Scan. Everything was looking good. The markers had returned to normal and the scan was still clear. The pathology report showed that I had a multi-germ tumour. As far as my urologist was concerned I was a good candidate for surveillance. He explained that in the past with TC patients they would cut them up from the bottom to the top and check everything, then after more experience they would adminster chemo regardless but these days in my case they would prefer to have the patient undergo surveillance. That is, if they thought the patient was reliable. Me reliable? Of course I would be!! I'd much rather go and checkups every three months than have some toxic 'weedkiller' run through my veins.
So for several months I would return and have my blood tests, x-rays and scans. I had completed my third session. It was six months after the operation and again my scans were clear. You can imagine the shock I got when my Urologist called me the next day to tell me that my markers were above normal. He asked me to have another test in a week just to see what was happening. Again, the markers were still up and rising. It wasn't much above normal but enough to worry the Doc -- enough to worry me too.
I now had to have another CT-scan and X-ray. There it was, not one but two small tumours were developing on each of my lungs. Those same thoughts were beginning to come back. I'm going to die. How is everyone going to live without me? Will everyone be OK? Who will come to my funeral? Is my little girl going to be looked after etc etc etc.
I'm sorry but their is no avoiding therapy of a chemical nature." were the Urologist's words. Chemotherapy!!! My hair is going to fall out. I'm going to be bald. How am I supposed to pick up babes now? What an idiot I was. I was more concerned that I was going to lose out on some sex than I was about this terrible disease that can kill.
Next stop was the Oncologist. I remember walking into his room. A very well respected Professor of Oncology at the Royal Melbourne Hospital. I returned back to Melbourne by this time. My scans were across his desk and he was crouched over them. He showed me the tumours and then explained to me the procedures involved in the chemo. "What are my chances?" I asked. There was no hesitation when he replied, "I'm going to cure you." That's great I thought. My Oncologist is actually God. He had the power to cure me. The Miracle man. He went on to explain that I would have some side effects. I remember two of them; possible infertility and that I may experience some hair thinning. Hair thinning, yeah right. (More of that later.)
I didn't want to go into chemo without ensuring that I left something behind just in case I wanted to have children. He suggested that I get that done straight away and I was booked into the hospital for my first session at the end of the following week -- I couldn't wait!
Well my trip to the 'Sperm Bank' was rather interesting. I can't remember what the correct medical term was for this center but who cares. It was a sperm bank. I had two visits there to ensure that I had left enough little tadpoles. Small room, a chair and a porno magazine. How romantic. Enough said.
I would have to undergo four sessions of chemo. Each session would require two nights in the hospital. I had three drugs; Bleomycin, Cisplatin and Etoposide. Great names and how come one of them rhymes with pesticide. Before each drug was administered they would give me a leaflet explaining to me the various side effects that could be experienced; kidney damage, liver damage, several others and of course - hair loss. For some reason I was expecting to walk out of the hospital after the first session bald. I had even brought in two caps so that they would match my t-shirt. I was still being an idiot. Chemo Man, quicker than an IV, More powerful than a projectile vomit. You get the drift.
I wasn't all that concerned when I walked into the hospital although I didn't really like seeing the nurses dressed from head to toe in goggles, rubber golves and surgical gowns. They were afraid to get any of this shit on them but there it was being adminstered into a vein in my arm. Did I happen to mention that the hospital food was the worst food I had ever tasted in my entire life? Even now after a year I could not bare to think about smoked chicken without thinking about throwing up. I couldn't eat anything while in there. Not because I was sick or had nausea -- the food was just terrible. The chef should have been checked out as I'm sure that half the people in hospital were those recovering from food poisoning.
What I hated most was the number of times I would have to urinate. And of course the ultimate embarrasement of having to urinate in one of those bottles so that the lovely young nurses can collect it and take it away for examination. If you have any sort of ego you quickly lose it. The smell wasn't exactly all that welcoming either. Now I know where they got the term 'Eau de Toilet' from. Phew, this stuff stank. Anyway I came out of that first session pretty well unscathed. Hair still intact, and I was hungry. I had a pizza for lunch. It was some 'real food'.
When I left they gave me ten capsules of Neupagyn (not sure if I spelt it correctly). I was quite proud to learn that this very important drug was actually invented in Australia right in the very next building from the hospital I was staying in. This drug is extremely important in building up your white blood cells. It allows the doctors to administer even higher dosages of 'weed killer'. This is an important part of the healing process. Every morning for 10 days I would pick a spot on my abdomen and inject this stuff into me. I had never had as many needles or seen as many doctors in my life.
About a week and a half after I left the hospital I felt this awful ache in my bones. Right across my shoulders and also in my thighs. The pain was quite intense at times and lasted a couple of days. It wasn't until I read sthrough the documentation on the Neupagyn that I understood it was this drug that was causing the pain. As mentioned previously, this drug gets your bones to create more white blood cells, hence the ache.
A further week down the track and it happened. I awoke one morning to find my pillow covered in hair. It looked like a shaggy dog. I wasn't quite expecting this. I thought it would be a gradual process not 'hair now, gone tomorrow'. Having a shower was not a lot of fun either, it just kept coming out, falling out in chunks. I had a work meeting that morning with a customer and was thinking at this stage about cancelling but I managed to get myself looking somewhat respectable before I left. I remember sitting in his office and the whole time I was there thinking about whether my hair looked OK, was the rest of it just going to drop out and stuff like that. Anyway as soon as that meeting was finished I went straight to the hairdresser.
I sat in the hairdresser's chair and just said, "Shave it all off." The guy looked at me rather strange but when I explained to him what the story was he understood. I even showed him what was happening by grabbing a clump of hair and just pulling it gently out. He told me that his son was currently going through the same thing so we spoke a little about that. When done he didn't even want me to pay for it. I couldn't let him off that easy so we settled on a 'half price' job. Now 'Chemo Man' was a 'Chrome Dome'. So this is what the Doc meant when he said "experience some thinning.' Yeah right!
The second session of chemo was a little worse. The Doc had actually upped the dosage of one of my drugs as he thought "I was looking too good after my first session". Don't you just love they way Doctors think? After the second session I had a scan and xray. It was nerve racking sitting there waiting for the results but the good news was that one of the tumours was completely gone, the other almost. My blood markers were all back to normal. Obviously this was the news that I wanted to hear and hopefully my Oncologist was going to let me off on the next two sessions of chemo. Unfortunately I was wrong, very wrong, and I was back in for my next session the following week.
Each session actually got worse for me. Don't know if it was just steady build up or my own mind. My head was in the bucket almost as soon as they started administering the 'weed killer'. There I was throwing up saying to myself, "This shit is making me better.' Somehow it's hard to think that's true when you have your head buried in the toilet spewing God knows what up especially when you weren't eating anything. I could always tell when it was going to hit. I could manage it quite well. Unplug the IV from the electric wall socket, wheel it to the bathroom and unload.
Out of all of this the one thing I hated the most was the way other people would react. You could sense the uneasiness they felt being around you knowing that you were a cancer patient. You would be having a conversation with them, everything would be going fine until they knew you were having chemotherapy for cancer. At times I felt like a regular leper. A lot of people have abolutely no idea what cancer really is. To them it's the death sentence. For us TC guys (well there aren't any women in this club right) it seemed to be especially difficult. You're now a one ball guy. You are not a man anymore. You cannot function properly. Well forget that shit. You are what you are and nothing can take that away from you. Fortunately there were also a lot of people who understood and knew exactly what the score was.
It's been over a year now after my last session of chemo. I've moved sagain, this time a little further afield and live in Singapore. It's kind of nice here, always warm. Being a 'chrome dome' in Melbourne's winter wasn't exactly my idea of fun. I have a great oncologist here who really does seem to care and walks me through everything. I regulary go back for checkups. You know, the blood tests, x-rays and scans and so far so good. In fact I just went last week.
I also have lot's of friends here who know of my problem and they just see me as a regular guy. Well I am aren't I? However, at time they do 'bust my ball' so to speak and joke around with me. That's fine by me. I'm alive and I love it.
As far as I'm concerned I'm 'cured', but that is not going to stop me from ensuring that I regularly go back for my checkups. The word is that if you suspect anything go and see the Doc. Make sure you go for your regular checkups. Check yourself as well. When you have two balls, everything seems OK, but when you only have one, you guard it with your life. And everytime you do a self examination just think that you have your whole life in your hands.