In his own words: living with testicular cancer
Robert*, a 55-year-old boat builder, was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 1994. He went in for outpatient surgery to have a cyst removed on his testicle, and when he woke up from surgery, he discovered that the cyst was full of tumors, requiring them to remove the testicle. Devastated and hurt, he was faced with the reality of cancer affecting his own life. But with constant support from his wife and doctor, he is doing well.
What was your first sign that something was wrong? What symptoms did you experience?
I have a bad back anyway, but it got to the point it was hurting so bad, I couldn't lift anything. I felt like it was more than just my back. I thought maybe I had a hernia. I had a hernia before, and that's kind of what it felt like.
What was the diagnosis experience like?
I went to my family doctor for my annual physical and he found a cyst on my testicle. So he set me up at the hospital to have outpatient surgery to remove the cyst. But when they got in there, they discovered that the cyst consisted of a lot of little tumors. When I woke up, he explained that the cyst was full of tumors, so they had to remove my testicle. At that time he told me that is wasn't cancerous. A few days later he called and told me that it was cancer.
What was your initial and then longer-term reaction to the diagnosis?
When I found out I had testicular cancer, I was discouraged and hurt. I felt like my world had come to an end. I guess when you hear the word cancer, you think of other people having it, but not you. Then of course, I thought I was going to die. He called me on the phone and gave me the news that it was malignant, then made an appointment for me to come in and talk about it. When I went back to the doctor and he explained that my chance of recovery was 97%, I felt much better. He said that if they saw any signs that the cancer was back, they would probably see it in my chest first. The first year I was getting a CAT scan every three months, and chest x-rays and blood tests every month. I was afraid the cancer was going to come back. The doctor explained what would happen if the cancer showed up in my chest, and that scared me more than anything. I didn’t really want to know to details of what “could” happen.
How is testicular cancer treated?
They removed the testicle that was full of tumors. I didn’t have to have any chemotherapy or radiation. The first year I was getting CAT scans every three months and chest x-rays and blood tests every month. Then the second year, I had a CAT scan every six months and a chest x-ray and blood tests every other month. I wasn't on any medications. I'm pretty careful about taking medication because of my history with alcoholism. I have an addictive personality, so I would rather stay away from medication all together if possible. Now I just go for my physical every year.
Did you have to make any lifestyle or dietary changes in response to having testicular cancer?
I haven't really changed any of my eating habits. My lifestyle has gotten a little different, in that I appreciate what I have every day. I've learned to take one day at a time.
Did you seek any type of emotional support?
Most of the support came from my wife. Our church was also very supportive. They brought meals and were always praying for us. My doctor was also very supportive. He was always reassuring me that everything was going to be okay. After all the blood tests, he would sit down and go over the results with me.
Does having testicular cancer have an impact on your family?
Yes. First, I think we prepared for the worst. We have a 31-year-old son who lives with us and is mentally handicapped. Because both my wife and I have had health problems, we were forced to think about what would happen to our son if something happened to us. That was a big concern. Other than that, we just kept hoping that everything was going to be all right. My wife encouraged me when I would get down, and I would encourage her when she was down. We didn’t really share a lot of details with our son, because we didn’t want him to worry. But I think he was more aware of what was happening than we thought.
What advice would you give to anyone living with testicular cancer?
Try not to overreact. Sometimes you get down, but don't stay down and feel sorry for yourself. Accept the things you can't change. Seek out positive people in your life to help you through. People who are upbeat seem to beat things quicker than people who are always down.
*Not his real name