Last year, around 2,300 British men were told they had testicular cancer. That’s more than six every day. The number of cases diagnosed has doubled since the mid-1970s with 70 men dying each year from the disease. 1 in 250 men will get testicular cancer. With those numbers, it’s only a matter of time before Moonpig does a card.
Despite being one of the most treatable cancers, there remain many misconceptions around testicular cancer.
As a notorious homosexual and a big fan of manscaping, I was no stranger to self-examination and judged myself low risk. Testicular cancer mainly affects men aged between 15 and 49, with those aged under 35 the most vulnerable. I was 52: a time for allotments and escorted cruises down the Rhine.
Instead, I sat through a scrotal ultrasound (as much fun as it sounds), trying to read the expression on my consultant’s face. She sent me to sit in a different part of the hospital where another doctor came to tell me I had cancer. He explained the operation (in and out within the day, literally) and what might happen afterwards. I may be anxious, suffer mood swings and feel tired. I joked about how this suggested I must have had cancer since the age of fifteen. He didn’t laugh.
Have a feel
A study by cancer charity, Orchid discovered that 67% of British men don’t know how to check their balls. Once a month, have a feel. Ideally after a bath or shower. The most typical symptom is a painless swelling or small pea-sized lump in one ball. If one of your balls seems firmer, or looks different to the other, if there’s a dull ache or sharp pain or a sense of heaviness–even if not constant–you need to get yourself checked out. Most lumps or swellings are not a sign of cancer, but they should never be ignored.
And if it is cancer, trust me, the fear of becoming a uniballer is more daunting than the reality. Few dinner parties pass without me tossing my scrotum into the conversation. 80% of cases are cured completely, that rises to 98% if caught early.
Fast forward, and I’m about to mark two cancer-free years. Unless Mooonpig gets its act into gear, I won’t celebrate, but it’s a milestone I’m relieved to reach. Losing one ball is no big deal. I’ve been with the same bloke for over twenty years, so it was largely decorative. Most men of my age don’t so much have a scrotum as a windsock, so the nip and tuck of surgery has given me that much-sought-after youthful look.
Men who’ve had testicular cancer once are 12 times more likely to get it again. The NHS has me covered. For ten years, I’ll be ‘under surveillance’ and not just by Cambridge Analytica. For the first few years, every three months, there’s a blood test, every six a scan. It sounds intrusive, but I see this as insurance. The rest of you bounce from one credit card bill to the next, not knowing what’s going on inside your bodies. I get a regular MoT.
My life changed after cancer. In a good way. As soon as I knew I wasn’t going to die right away, I returned to writing – after years of putting it off ‘until tomorrow’. I went from knowing next to nothing about the subject, to talking about testicular cancer to everyone. Online and in the office … anyone willing to listen. I summoned up the nerve to try stand-up comedy – turns out that’s even scarier than losing a ball.
Most people suffer poor mental health post-trauma and I can’t deny there are days when anxiety wins. I no longer drink and that leaves me with little in the way of release when the world grows big and scary. I’ve reached the age when the people from Saga Insurance stalk me with junk mail and Facebook suggests male incontinence pants. But last year, I got married to a man I met 22 years earlier. I told jokes on stage in front of 200 people and finished work on my next book.
Cancer doesn’t need to be an end. In almost every case, it’s the beginning.