I am a 45 years old, mildly athletic, slightly overweight filmmaker living in Montreal, Quebec. My diagnosis with testicular cancer was my first experience with a serious medical condition since I had my tonsils out when I was 6.
The TCRC site has been an incredible source of information and support for me throughout, but particularly in the early stages of my diagnosis and treatment. The personal stories did much to remove the fear and stress I have felt throughout my treatment. I hope my story here will do the same for someone else.
I was sitting on the toilet when first noticed something wasn't hanging right. I wasn't quite sure what was different but my balls seemed to be fighting for space. My right testicle has always been slightly larger than the left so it took a couple of weeks to realize that my right ball was getting bigger.
I went to see my family doctor for a examination. He did a basic test, shining the light from a small flashlight through my scrotum and through the right testicle. Since light passed through it, he said it was a hydrocele, a harmless fluid filled sac attached to the testicle, not that uncommon and harmless. Often they go away on there own or can be drained. This was in the middle of May. We decided to wait and see.
By late June my testicle had continued to grow to about 2/3 the size of a small egg. I went back to my doctor and he looked at it again, did the flashlight test again and stayed with his original diagnosis. He suggested a another doctor for a second opinion but the earliest I could see the specialist was mid August, two months away.
I was too impatient and anxious to wait so I went to see my late father's urologist (My father had died of prostate cancer 7 years earlier). I was able to get an appointment to see him within a week. I saw him on a Thursday, He took one look and then felt the enlarged testicle and right away said something was not right. He discussed the possibility of testicular cancer and the implications of a positive diagnosis. He booked me for ultrasound and blood tests for the following Monday.
The ultrasound test itself was mildly painful. The scanning device exerted more pressure than I anticipated. Oddly the left testicle hurt more than my right. I could tell from the expression on the male technician's face as he watched the scan monitor that something was not good, and then he redid the scan again. I asked him afterwards if it was a hydrocele. "No," he answered, "That's not a cyst, it's solid, probably a tumour."
Two days later, on Wednesday, I had an appointment to see the urologist and he booked me into the hospital for the orchidectomy on Thursday. I remember lying in bed on Wednesday night holding on to my right thinking that I was about to loose a part of my body.
The surgery took about 2 hours, slightly longer than usual because, the surgeon also found a hernia which they had to repair at the same time. I was actually supposed to go home that evening but as I was too groggy from the surgery, I stayed the night,
The four inch incision seemed to be healing well but somehow I caught a staph infection around the incision. The infection took 3 weeks to clear up before I could get CAT scanned for the radiation prep and markings.
My treatment was 15 days of radiation spread over 4 weeks. (weekends and holidays off). My daily dose was 160 rads. I had been warned of potential side effects of fatigue, nausea and diarrhea but didn't experience any side effects until day 5 when I started feeling mild nausea, by day 8 the nausea was much worse. Gravol was suggested as the best medicine, but I found it didn't do much for me.
Day 9, I was almost unaware of my nauseous stomach when I went back to work on Tuesday after a 3 day break. (Thank god for long weekends). After my treatment, I met with my radiologist, She prescribed Stemetil for the nausea. This seemed to work for a while but the nausea slowly got more apparent as the week went on so by day 12 I wasn't feeling too enthusiastic about life. The weekend gave me a short reprieve, A friend dropped off some marijuana as alternative relief. It was hard to tell if it had a real effect, the buzz definitely took my attention away from my nausea. I spent a very enjoyable evening with two friends watching the Star Trek's. I tried this alternative therapy again on Sunday. I shut myself up at home--put on the answering machine. (I get mildly paranoid now when I smoke dope, and the buzz is just not worth the anxiety) I'd have to say that marijuana didn't really work to reduce my nausea, perhaps if done on a more regular basis it would be more effective.
Around this time I also started to get headaches, centered at the back of my head. Tylenol or plain aspirin was very effective at getting rid of the pain. The nausea was back full force by day 13, I threw up for the first time too. I got another anti-nausea prescription Zofran, the next day it seems to work better. Its only disadvantage is that it is priced around $18 a pill. This has been the only out of pocket expense I have had during this entire treatment. Canada has national medicare so I have not had to pay for any of the treatments or tests I have had during the last 2 months.
Day 15 and it was all over. The nausea and headaches took another two weeks to disappear. After the radiation I also experienced a stitch like pain in my upper chest which was primarily on my right side but seemed to shift location on a daily basis. I also had some discomfort around my kidneys. My doctor suggested that the radiation may have caused some internal scarring or may have caused something to adhere to the colon, and as the colon shifts its position inside the abdomen the pain would also shift. These discomforts gradually lessened over two months, though at this writing, I am still aware of them. At first exercise seemed to provoke more discomfort but that seemed to subside after about a month and I am now swimming regularly. I gained about 25 lbs throughout this adventure, mostly because I stopped exercising completely and ate more junk food than normal, probably as an internal compensation for having cancer.
I'll have a follow-up check-up with blood tests for cancer markers and a chest x-ray at 3 months post radiation, followed by another check-up after 6 months. Then it will be once a year for life.