Cancer - Your Story : I Am Superman

Editors Note:  You "meet" all sorts of people when you blog; some are fellow bloggers, some are readers and some are the lovely PR's who contact you for various reasons.  And of those PR's it's also nice to hear from them that they do actually read your blog.

Daniel - one of the afore-mentioned PR's - approached me a short while ago to ask if he could post his own cancer-related story and his style of writing is infectious and page turning (if blogs had physical pages).  And as this occasional series of personal stories is all abut breaking the taboo of cancer, I'm honoured that Daniel requested that he openly and honestly shares his experience of testicular cancer.  As he says at the end of his story, he is open to questions so please feel free to ask in the comments.  You may use the "Guest" option if you wish to remain anonymous.

If you would like to submit a story to this occasional series then please
 find more information on the "Cancer - Your Story" page.

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It was autumn. The golden, brown, yellow and orange leaves in the trees danced to a silent tune as the wind passed through them and around them. A gentle rustling sound floated down with the leaves that have been disturbed to settle on the ground. It was a beautiful time of year, and life couldn’t have been going any better in my mind. I had been in my new job for three months now and I felt that I was doing something good, that I had found a little direction. I was learning to be an Undertaker, and had already helped a number of families through a difficult time in their lives. More than that, I had been with a girl I loved for a year and a half now. She stayed almost every night with me and we got on well, even though we had fights. I figured what couple doesn’t? The sex was great though so surely everything was fine? She seemed happy and was preparing to go to University, asking me if I would go with her. After years of not feeling attractive, of having no direction and no money, I suddenly had it all. I booked flights for the both of us to go to America next month. My dad lives out there in Boston, hers in California, so what better then to go on a long holiday to both places during our time there? Of course I didn’t need travel insurance. Of course it’s ok for me to book it all, all £2000 worth of flights for both of us, on my new credit card. I had good money coming in and could pay it off in six months, maybe twelve if we have another holiday early next year. I was nineteen years old and I was invincible.

Never did it once cross my mind that the small lump that had been found a month earlier on my left testicle would have such a large impact on my life. When I had gone before, I was told it was a cist. Give it time. It will go away on its own, have some tablets and don’t come back for 6 months. My own doctor had been unable to see me, but this is what I was told by the doctor who did see me in the end. So I took his word for it, and took the tablets and thought nothing further of it. Almost a month later, my girlfriend noticed that it had gotten larger. Nothing to worry about, I was sure. Until three days later it swelled up to the size of half a lemon and I had acute pains in my stomach area. So a month after my initial appointment, I booked in to see my own doctor, Dr. Jeffries, for an emergency appointment.

This was on Monday. I saw him over my lunch break at work. Dr. Jeffries was an old school Doctor, nearing retirement and more than willing to tell it exactly as it was. He spoke no nonsense and to this day is the best GP I have ever had. I told him what the problem was, and he nodded and said he wasn’t even going to exam it and he would just book me a hospital appointment straight away. He did however have one test he had to do. I was mystified, I hadn’t a clue what that could be! So as he asked me to get on to the examining table, curl into the foetal position and pull my trousers down, I was clueless. Until I heard the snap of a rubber glove being put on! Needless to say it was rather a… surprise for me… however I went back to work that afternoon after I was told my appointment would be in a few weeks’ time.

Tuesday was almost uneventful, until I received a phone call in the evening from the hospital. They wanted me in the next day for my appointment, first thing in the morning. I called my boss and let her know, to which she replied “Oh…. Well be sure to be back as quickly as possible.”. Which was fair enough, as I had yet to inform her of anything that was going on other than the fact I had appointments at the doctors and hospital.

Wednesday I had my tests in the morning. It was a couple of blood tests and an ultrasound on my testicle. It was rather odd, as I had always associated this with pregnancy and happy times, so I didn’t exactly know how to feel about this. Yet the man seemed to know what he was doing, and was very pleasant to me, so I carried on regardless. Nothing had rocked my world yet, it was simply things that had to be done to fix whatever was wrong with me. I got to work late morning and it was a fairly uneventful day. Until, yet again, the evening. It was the hospital. They said they wanted me to come in and see the doctor first thing for my results.

Thursday and my mum took me in this time. I was dressed, expecting to go back to work in the afternoon as before. I was seen very promptly by the Doctor, I think a Dr Rupesh, however as with the exact dates of all this, I cannot be sure as I only met him this once. I do remember him being small and smiley, reassuring in a way and willing to tell the facts exactly as they were, not hiding or trying to sway me either way. He said that the ultrasound was inconclusive. I had a growth there, but they couldn’t tell anything more than that. I had two options. The first, to have it removed on the off chance that it was cancerous. The worst case scenario would be if they tested it and found out that it was not cancerous. However if I chose to keep my testicle and hope that the growth shrunk and went away on its own, there was a chance that I would die. So my options boiled down to, losing the testicle and possibly saving my life. Or saving the testicle and possibly losing my life. When a choice is put to you like that, no matter how hard the doctor tries not to sway you, the choice is a no brainer. I said that I would like the operation and that, on the off chance I did need chemotherapy, not to have a prosthetic to replace it as this could delay treatment. It was at this point that I told my boss at work that I may need up to three weeks off after I was operated on, and why I was being operated on. She replied to this by saying “We’ll have to see about that….”. I stayed at the hospital for more tests in to the afternoon, x-rays and more blood tests mainly. When I got home in the evening, as I walked through the door, the phone went. It was the hospital. They wanted me in first thing tomorrow for the operation. I let work know.

Friday. This was the day when I almost broke. I had been brought up to show a stiff upper lip, yet as I walked towards the x-ray room for yet another one with my mum, I slung an arm over her shoulders and she wrapped an arm around my waist. No words were shared yet I felt tears pooling at the edge of my eyes for the first time, I was scared suddenly and for no reason that I could figure out. It lasted only a moment, but then I was strong again and sure of myself. I would be fine. After all, as I kept telling my girlfriend, I am Superman. As we started to speak, I realised two things. The first is that regardless of how I felt, it was so much harder for those around me who cared. For me… I would live or I would die, and I believed the doctors would allow me to live. Never once did I think otherwise. For them however, for them it was a different story. Helpless, all they could do was watch. While I had things I could do, or have done to me, they could do nothing. While it may have been hard on me, it was harder on them. Yet as I said to mum before I went in for my x-ray, I would rather that this happen to me than anyone else. I would not wish myself better at someone else’s expense, no matter who they were. It wasn’t until the evening that I had my operation, the last one of the day.

Saturday I woke up in a medical bay. A matronly Nurse came in and whipped my sheets away with the phrase “let’s have a look at you then!”. My morning passed in a bit of a whirl as I came round, though I did feel a little lighter on one side of my body. It seemed that the operation had been a success as far as that went then. When my mum got in, she had a letter for me. It was from work. They informed me that my contract was being terminated immediately. The rest of the day was spent resting and seeing visitors, I was even told that so long as they could get access to the CT scanner tomorrow, I could leave straight after that. As luck would have it, they did and I left Sunday afternoon, after having a scan that made me feel like I was about to wet myself.

There was a two week period following this where I was left in a kind of limbo. I was told that nothing could happen while I was healing, but I would be going to see a consultant for my CT scan results. My relationship with my girlfriend during this time was a little strained, as I was very self-conscious of what was now missing. We cuddled, we had sex, but I felt strangely reluctant to let her touch me down there. I managed to get over that eventually, but that was only at the end of this time period. All through it though, I felt calm. After all, I was Superman and everything would be ok.

I saw Doctor Bloomfield the consultant two or three weeks after my operation. I’m not sure how long it was exactly, the same as I cannot remember the dates off the top of my head. He is a wonderful man and he is the consultant for certain types of cancer for the entire county. I have nothing but respect for him and for what he does, as the news he has to deliver to families and people is not always good. The news he delivered to my mum and me was of the not good variety. The tumour had been cancerous. It had spread to my lymph nodes and there were spots on my lungs, indicating it had spread there. I asked if it were possibly for my girlfriend and me to still go on holiday, as we were due to fly in a week and a bits time. He informed me that should I choose to fly, he couldn’t guarantee that I would still be alive to have the treatment he was suggesting when I got back, as the cancer was a very aggressive type.

Needless to say we did not fly.

I was booked in to start chemotherapy the following week Monday, spending four days in hospital having a series of drugs pumped through me, followed by two weeks and three days at home, though every Friday I would have to go in for a day’s worth of treatment. At the end of that time, the cycle would start again. I went through three cycles of Chemotherapy this way. The first was not as bad as I feared it would be. I had some discomfort, however I was not sick and I only felt a little tired. I was almost back to full strength by the time the second cycle started. However this cycle hit me hard, I was sick and my hair fell out of my legs, head and beard. Funnily enough, it was when I was sat in front of my computer one night, tugging at my beard in thought that it just all came away in my hand. I hadn’t even realised it was happening until I looked down and saw most of it all over my t-shit and chest already. During this time I also encouraged my girlfriend to go out and see her friends, as I was unable to sleep in the same bed as her due to feeling so sick and weak. This led us to becoming distant and disconnected, even though I could not see it at the time. The third cycle left me so weak I couldn’t stay awake for much time, and I lacked the energy to do much. However, I still felt cheerful. As I kept telling people, I am Superman and I would come through this.

The Nurses in the hospital were fantastic, truly wonderful human beings, at least to their patients. They inspired me to become a Nurse one day, and while I have had one set back recently in that plan, I will make it happen one day. My friends were also so good to me. Paul and Steve invited me round every weekend, and I would go and watch films or play games. They would cook me soup, as I couldn’t manage much more. However they lived on the 4th floor of a block of flats with no lift. So unfortunately every time they fed me, the walk down the stairs would cause me to throw up in their flower beds. I didn’t have the heart to tell them though, as the time we spent together was a real source of strength to me, especially with my girlfriend becoming so distant.

I was given the all clear just before Christmas. My girlfriend left me shortly afterwards. Like an idiot, I agreed to buy the car that I had bought for her back off her, and I used my credit card to finance this, as I had when I had got the car originally for her. I had my life, but I also had debts and the life I had had before was gone.

Yet then and now, I always answer the same when people ask me “do you wish it had never happened?”. No, I never wish that. I’m glad that I went through it. That it had happened to me. Putting aside what I said before about not wanting anyone else to take my place, if such a thing were possible, having Cancer at such a young age has shaped who I am today. It has given me a different outlook on life, a better one I believe. I have just typed out and deleted multiple sentences, as I realised that I cannot put in to words all of the positives that have come from my experience. I met young doctors and nurses, trainees, and helped them see that an illness like this can happen to anyone at any age. To hopefully help them have a good bedside manner. At least that’s what I hope. I am far closer to my mum now then I would ever have been. I was forced to mature quickly, yet I don’t feel as if I have missed out on anything. I feel as if I have been given a chance to appreciate certain things in life much earlier than I would otherwise have. Like my relationship with my mum and how close we are, the way I see my sister and help look after her.

I know that other people have vastly different experiences with Cancer, some are horrendous and some are heart breaking. I am lucky in that mine was not and I have survived. Yet I do not consider myself just a survivor. As I feel that I have survived and prospered. I like who I am, and I would not be who I am without the experience of having had cancer in the way that I did. I hope that doesn’t sound big-headed, as it is simply how I feel about the experience.

If you’ve managed to read this far then thank you for taking the time to read my story. Hopefully it was not too boring for you. I am always happy to talk about my experience with anyone who cares to ask, or feels the need to. So if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask them and I will try my best to answer them.