Testicular cancer is a topic a lot of guys shy away from talking about.
It isn’t exactly a conversation starter – but while breast cancer has become far more widely talked about in recent years, and the stigma surrounding it removed to a certain extent, male cancers can still prove difficult to talk about for a lot of men.
Avoiding going to the doctors to get checked because of fear of embarrassment, not checking yourself because you’re too ashamed to ask how, or even look it up, can delay discovery of the disease if you have it, decreasing the chances of recovery.
Dale, who was diagnosed with testicular cancer aged 21, talked to us about his experience.
UNILAD: When Did You First Think You Might Have Cancer?
When I found a lump after being hit in testicles playing football. The pain was still there after a few days, [which is when] I found the lump. I was and am still 21.
What Did You Do After Finding The Lump?
I decided I’d call my GP as soon as I could. As it was a Saturday, I had to wait till Monday, then got booked in for the Tuesday.
A GP at my doctors examined me, but the initial [mis]diagnosis was a haematoma (a solid blood clot). Because of where it was, they decided that I should still go and get it checked at the hospital just in case.
The doctor there checked me and concluded, because of how I’d found the lump and what had happened prior, that it was a haematoma, but booked me in for an ultrasound to check. The ultrasound was unclear because of the trauma around it, so the surgeon told me to come back in a month, but they weren’t expecting anything serious. Fast forward a month and I got the news, then it was surgery in two weeks, and chemo[therapy] four weeks after that.
How Did You Feel While Undergoing Treatment?
Tired mainly, my taste buds kept changing, and I needed the toilet more than I thought possible, but ultimately it didn’t hit me as hard as some people I was in the YPU with. I was relatively well off with the side effects.
Did You Worry About Having Surgery Or Chemo, And How It Might Affect Your Looks And Body?
Of course, you hear the stories of what happens with it and how it affects people, but to me, it was a necessary evil that I had to go through. [I’d] rather have a scar and a crap few months than be dead in a few years because of it.
Are You In A Relationship? If So, How Did Your Diagnosis Affect It?
I was when I first got diagnosed. It made me really think about the relationship as a whole – I wasn’t going to drag someone through something like that if I didn’t think it was going to last, so I decided to end it once I knew I’d have to have chemo.
How Did Having Cancer Affect You Mentally?
It was as draining mentally as it was physically. There comes a time when you can’t wait for the treatment to be finished. You see everyone going about their daily lives and you wish you could be doing that as well. Even things as mundane as work or uni lectures were things I began to miss, which is something I never thought I’d say.
Luckily my friends were unbelievable, and were more than happy to come and keep me company if I was getting bored, and helped me feel like I was still a part of things that were going on, even if I couldn’t go out and do a lot.
Did You Rely On Support From Family And Friends? Did You Try And Keep It Quiet?
I wouldn’t go as far as to say I relied on it, but I would never say that it didn’t help. To start with I only told the main friends and family in my life about what had happened, mainly because I thought I kind of had to, but as time went on more and more people found out. There were a lot of people who I didn’t think would have necessarily cared as much as they did, who showed how much they did.
Knowing there were so many people there for me if I did have a problem was always a comforting thought.
Did You Meet Any Other Young People During Your Treatment?
I met quite a few, everyone is so friendly because you are all going through the same ordeal to a degree, and everyone just wants to get through it as best they can.
What’s Your Prognosis Now?
Very good, it had spread to my stomach, but with the chemo it’s been reduced and killed as far as I’m aware. I’ve got the standard tests and stuff, CT scans and the like, just to make sure, but all the doctors have said it’s looking really good.
What Would You Say To Other Young Guys About Checking Themselves?
I am one of the most lucky people going when it comes to this. If I hadn’t been hit with that football, I would have never know and when it would’ve come round to eventually finding out, I honestly don’t believe I’d have caught it early enough, and my prognosis would’ve been a lot more bleak.
It’s so important to check regularly. If I had, it would’ve been found earlier and the amount of chemo would’ve been reduced, and I could’ve returned to my life a lot sooner.
How Did ‘Balls To Cancer’ Help You?
They helped me through their correspondence with my mum. Luckily I didn’t need them much directly because of how unbelievable the YPU staff are and how supportive my friends and family were, but it was a weight off my soldiers knowing anything my mum or dad were worrying about the people at Balls to Cancer were more than happy to help anyway they could.
One of the worst things about it for me was worrying how my family were dealing with it, and because of them I didn’t have to think about it at all.
I’m not currently involved with fundraising, but I have been in the past, and I definitely will do again in the future.
Mark Bates, co-founder of Balls To Cancer, gave us an insight into why it’s so difficult for some guys to discuss testicular cancer, and what age people are affected by the disease.
How Young Is The Youngest Person You’ve Helped Who Has Suffered From Testicular Cancer?
We have helped boys as young as nine! This like every other cancer has a age range in which this mainly occurs (in this case, 14 to 45), but we have seen many cases outside of this range and even one child we know of was actually born with it.
When encouraging other young people to come forward with their worries is so vital, seeing Dale, have such courage to speak to us and explain just what he went through is seriously commendable.
Why Do You Feel There Is A Stigma For Young People And Cancers?
We think young people believe there is no route to find out about or discuss cancer without going to doctors and clinics, etc… no one that can talk to them on their level. This is one of the reasons we push our support and information so much on social media, so we can give them the information on their arena.
If you are worried about any issues with your balls, there is a guide on how to check yourself here.
It is, of course, incredibly hard for people of any age to deal with, but for those under 30, it can be a huge battle.
Let’s take a look at some figures. Yes, they can be boring, but as they say in football, stats don’t lie – so here we go:
• Around 2,300 people are diagnosed with testicular cancer each year in the UK.
• From this figure, the main symptom is swelling in the testicles or the discovery of a lump.
• Almost 96 per cent of males with testicular cancer are cured.
• Unlike most cancers, more young guys die from testicular cancer than older men.
• When diagnosed at its earliest stage, all men with testicular cancer will survive the disease for five years or more, compared with around eight in 10 men when diagnosed at the latest stage.
• In the USA, 8,430 cases of testicular cancer will be diagnosed in 2015, from this figure, 380 of those men will die.
• One in every 263 men will develop testicular cancer at some point in their life.
• The average age at the time of diagnosis of testicular cancer is about 33.
Checking yourself is vital. If you do feel anything odd, get yourself down to the doctor.