A normal day
We were so excited about our trip to Europe and the UK. We were to have coffee in a quaint little french town, experience the eclectic art in Amsterdam, a road trip around the beautiful UK countryside and visit family in Shrewsbury and Belgium.
It was a normal day, with the exception of picking up the final piece of our Europe adventure, my wife's Schengen Visa.
Hold your balls, Heavy mention of testicles / testicle from now on ...
That morning I had asked my wife to look at my left testicle, which was slightly swollen. I had noticed it around five days prior and just needed a second opinion. She looked at it and agreed it looked bigger then usual. No worries, we can also fit a quick GP visit in today.
After collecting my wife's passport, we went to a GP in Orchard Road for a third, professional, opinion. After a short inspection and discussion, we were highly advised to see a specialist as soon as possible. The GP referred us to a urologist for the next day and we happily went about our day blissfully unaware that this "normal day" will soon be known as Day 0.
The next day my wife and I met Dr Ho, our amazing urologist. He asked me to lie on the bed and within a couple of minutes of feeling around he asked us to sit down. Dr. Ho has been a urology specialist for many years, and he has seen many many male parts before - and as soon as he saw mine - he just knew. He explained that he was fairly certain it was testicular cancer. My wife and I both sunk down on our seats. When you are told you have Cancer, you don't know the extent of it. Cancer has such a fucked up range. It has stages and types. When you are first diagnosed, the hardest part is the unknown.
The next steps for diagnosis were a blood test and an ultrasound. I was sent down to radiology to get an ultrasound straightaway. I was led to a dark room and a magic sound wand proceeded to get a detailed view of both my testicles. I was asked to hold my breath and push which would show blood flow. After the ultrasound was complete the nurse went off and proceeded to fetch Dr Ho. What you learn in patient school is, when the very busy doctor comes down to specifically see you, you are going to hear some news that will probably change your life somehow.
How a normal day turns into a very different day
The diagnosis was now pretty solid. We had blood tests that confirmed a tumor marker at 237, this value should be under 15. We had the ultrasound which showed anomalies in the left testicle. Dr Ho patiently and compassionately explained the next course of action and what each one entails. I would be going into surgery to remove the left testicle and would most likely require two cycles of BEP Chemotherapy. All of this could change based on the biopsy of the testicle and the stage of the cancer which was yet to be determined.
Testicular cancer is quite contained but can spread easily if it breaches outside the sack. For this reason, a biopsy can only happen after the testicle has been removed from the body to limit the spread of the cancer. In the next few days I would be an inpatient where I would get a CT Scan which would tell us the stage of cancer, and the operation to remove the left testicle. Something else dawned on us.. we are not going to be nibbling on croissants in Paris 3 weeks from now like we have been planning for half a year - we will be taking down this Cancer with everything we've got instead.
I was to be hospitalized for three days two nights. I would have a CT scan on the first day, the operation on the second and be discharged on the third. We packed some bags and got an Uber to Gleneagles Hospital. This was a pretty scary moment for me. We both had to be strong, but we still were in the unknown stage. The operation was pretty straight forward but we still had to wait on the results from the CT scan. We waited about an hour and a half from when we were told to register. Our insurance was good for a one bed room but after registering, we were upgraded to a VIP suite - I guess since we can't stay in the hotels we booked in Europe this will do. We asked whether my wife could board with me (sleep in the same room), and for a "minimal" fee she was able to stay the whole time, meals included. A great start to the day!
After fasting, I was ready to be taken down to radiology for my CT scan. Before going into the room I had to drink this liquid which apparently lights my insides up like a Christmas Tree. I was wheeled into the room and placed on the machine. The machine looks like a big doughnut and is quite noisy. You are given instructions from an automated talking voice, let's call her GLaDOS. She gives you instructions on how to breathe and when to hold your breath.
The most weird experience you will have with a CT scan is when they inject you with a dye (contrast agent). The whole process is automated and lasts around ten seconds. When the machine starts injecting the dye your whole body starts to feel really hot. This feeling quickly moves from the top of your body to the bottom of your feet. GLaDOS asks you to hold your breath and you get whizzed through the machine. You now have a cross section of your body that really allows them to get to know what a good looking bloke you are on the inside. Now we had to wait a while for the results and ponder tomorrow's procedure, and soon it was time for dinner.
The benefits of being upgraded to a VIP suite was having our own butler. I am not joking, the dapper gentleman in a vest and tie actually introduced himself as a butler. We were provided with an iPad which allowed us to select our five course meal. About 30 minutes in, a room service table with silverware and our food in actual plates was wheeled in.
After dinner, a nurse came into the room. She said she had the results of the CT scan and it showed Stage 1 Cancer (no spread). This was the best news we could get and everything was on track to get rid of the sick testicle and replace it with a cyborg one.
DAY 2 Today was the day of the operation. I have never been under anesthesia before and was kind of excited. I wasn't nervous about the operation. When you have something in your body that is diagnosed as being shit, your focus is about getting rid of it. That is what I wanted and I felt good about it. Some people have been known to feel less like a man. No need, trust me, you feel much better about yourself when you remove a nasty ball causing harm to your body. Besides, apparently we only really need one to do all the manly things expected of us. The other one is just a redundant ornament put there for balance and symmetry.
I was wheeled into the surgery room. I was expecting everything to look metallic and cold like House. There were no snarky medical students watching me from above, it just looked like a small box.
A huge array of lights stared down at me while the room was being prepped. Fuck, I was also being prepped. One of the anesthetist's job is make you feel comfortable. They try to relax you by talking about what you do, where you're from, what you like. Every so often he would say something like "OK, I am injecting you with something that will make you feel relaxed, Hey, where did you grow up?". All this time the surgery room is being prepped.
"We are ready."
Dr Ho walks in and comes up to me, smiles, and asks if I am ready and that everything is going to be fine. I smile, and tell him "let's do it."
My anesthetist asks me to count down from 10.
Four Hours Later (what felt like a couple of seconds later)
I woke up and felt so good. My wife was standing by my side and I just felt amazing. I am not sure whether it was the drugs, the fact that I wasn't dead or that I had my beautiful wife smiling down at me. It was probably a factor of all of those things. I was wheeled back up to my room and had a little rest before I had a surprise visit from a bunch of my awesome colleagues from TradeGecko. Ball jokes aside (there were so many) these guys have been incredible and so supportive.
I deal with issues like this in such a positive way. It's the only way I know how and it has worked for me so far. You have to be able to laugh at the absurdity and randomness of life, and 2016 has definitely been one of those years to laugh at.
DAY 3 Today I would be discharged and we would go back home to rest for a couple of days before a new week. I had no pain during this time, and the operation was healing incredibly well.
All of the above happened within a week. From Monday, our first meeting with the GP to being discharged on Saturday from the hospital. We were so lucky to be in a country where something like this can happen so quickly.
My wife, Chay, has also been my pillar of strength. As my dealing mechanism is to power through each day with little context; she would be reading, researching, emotionally filtering out certain topics of information, making me laugh, taking my mind off the unknown, preparing for the worst, preparing for the best and just being the most amazing and supportive person I know. She knows how much I love her, She knows how much she has done to make this easy for me, she knows that I don't have enough hugs for how much I want to thank her for being there for me. Thank you Chay, I love you!
Back to work for two weeks
I didn't need much time to recover from the operation, but I did need time to heal before I started chemotherapy. I went back to work for two weeks which was liberating. I am a Software Engineer at TradeGecko and those couple of weeks was about preparing for my absence at work and mentally psyching myself up for the chemo to come.
Feel free to ask any questions below, I am very willing to share my experience and answer any specific questions you have about my experience with Testicular Cancer. Remember to check your balls and see your GP if you feel or see anything out of the ordinary. In this particular instance my left testicle was SWOLLEN and was NOT in pain.
This post will be split into two parts. The next part will talk about my chemotherapy experience.