Updated April 27, 2001
THE DAY THAT CHANGED MY LIFE...
It was Thursday, April 4th 1996 and the Health Centre had called that morning asking me to return to Hospital for results of an x-ray that had been taken two days previously. I thought nothing of it...
On arrival at the hospital, the consultant showed me to an examination room. It was at this point (still wearing my working clothes having rushed to the appointment from work) that I began to feel uneasy. He calmly put a chest x-ray onto a viewing screen and proceeded to point out a huge, cloudy looking mass in the centre of the x-ray.
I could or would not believe that this was an x-ray of MY chest. It was after the consultant explained that it was the size of a large orange that I broke down. Before I continue I would like to try to explain how I felt: I had a 4 month old baby son, my first child, who himself had been seriously ill in the first month's of his life. I was 30 years old, a non-smoker and very fit and active. The discovery just seemed totally unbelievable.
A few days and two biopsies later, I was told that the growth was malignant - cancer. The second biopsy was thought necessary as there was some confusion as to what type of tumour I had. It had been assumed that it was some form of Lymphoma, but the pathology report showed it to be a germ cell tumour. The consultant had to dig out his text books to get information, as he had never encountered primary testicular cancer in the chest before. Indeed, at first, I was told that the cancer had "undoubtedly" spread from my testicles via my abdomen but after an ultrasound scan of my testicles and CT of my abdomen, this was clarified and it was somewhat of a relief to be told that the tumour was primary, and I would therefore not need surgery to my testicles and abdomen. I was then referred to a specialist oncology centre. [Editor's note: This should not have been a relief. Primary mediastinal tumors usually have a worse prognosis than testicular tumors that have spread.]
WHERE IT ALL BEGAN
I had originally visited my doctor four weeks earlier, complaining of pain in my chest. I was told to take paracetamol, that the pain was most likely to be caused by a muscular strain. On my return to the doctor four weeks later and in quite a lot more pain, I was referred to the hospital for the x-ray. It transpired that the chest pain had been caused by the tumour chipping away some of my breast bone as it grew too large for the mediastinal cavity.
Throughout the summer of 1996 I underwent intensive chemotherapy at the oncology centre. I lost all my hair, 30 pounds in weight (I am 6 feet tall and usually weigh about 154 pounds) and nearly lost my sanity. To explain the effects of the treatment, physically and mentally, is virtually impossible. I believe only someone who has been through the same treatment can truly understand what it was like. Probably the worst time of all was when the chemotherapy caused me to lose my immunity temporarily. After contracting pneumonia, I was put in isolation on an antibiotic drip in addition to the chemotherapy drip.
The tumour responded extremely well to the treatment and in September 1996 I was given the "all clear". I returned to work that month (initially to be with my friends and to try to get back to some sort of "normality"). Later, after building up my strength I was also able to start playing football (soccer) again. I continue to have check-ups, now every 3 months and everything has gone exceptionally well.
Throughout my treatment the thought that returned to my mind time and time again was "Why me?" As I have mentioned, I was 30 years old, have never smoked, have only the occasional drink and have always been very fit and active, playing football, tennis and squash and carrying out back-breaking duties in my job as a Groundsman. I have since discovered, however, that my illness is completely indiscriminate - it could happen to anyone at any time. Having learned a huge amount about cancer over the past few months, I would now say "Why not me?"
GRATITUDE AND HOPE
I feel I owe my life to the oncologists and all those who have worked for Cancer Research in the past. Without them I would not have seen my son's first birthday. Without their support and caring I could not have faced up to the treatment. I would like to reassure anyone now going through wht I have experienced, that there really is light at the end of that seemingly endless tunnel. I look at my son, my wife and family and think about what I have been through. It all seems to have been a bad dream.
It really helped me to read about others' experiences when I was at my lowest ebb and I hope this account will be of some help to anyone finding themselves in similar circumstances.
Epilogue - Pete's coming up to his five years clear day (mid-June 2001). He still has a 4cm residual mass in his mediastinum, but this has not grown at all so things are looking excellent!