My Left Nut
In 2002, Martin Lighwood wrote about his experience of becoming one of the 1500 blokes who got testicular cancer that year. Nearly a decade on, he's updated his story for Blue September.
The first time I took notice of testicular cancer was when I heard it was the most common thing that men between 18 – 21 years old were going into hospital to overcome. From that day on when I was about 17 years old I made a habit of checking my nuts regularly. I already knew they worked but the checking in this scenario was directed towards searching for abnormal lumps. From an early age I was always curious how people and myself would deal with something like having cancer, and I think that’s why I reacted that way on diagnosis.
Testicular cancer was always something that was taken very light heartedly and joked about in the pub, where I would initiate random nut checks amongst my friends. One minute there were sipping there pint and shoving their hands in to a packet of cheese and onion crisps, the next minute there were sipping their pint and shoving their hands in to a sweaty ball bag. It was something that wasn’t taken to seriously at the time but I think it made me more aware. When I first thought I had testicular cancer I was watching TV, there was a programme explaining the correct procedure for checking your nuts. Being a red blooded male, I thought I would have a delve into underwear and see if the old fella is ok, then put the newly learnt theory into practice. To my surprise I found a small lump about the size of a biscuit crumb. I thought it was a bit of a coincidence and it seemed to small to be concerned, so carried on as normal.
After a few weeks the lump was still there so I thought I would go and see a doctor. Now, the thought of having the doctors hands cupping my nuts, was not the most exciting prospects that day, but I went through with it anyway. Much to my relief, the doctor had warm hands; he also said it was just a swollen epidermis, which is basically a swollen vein that runs around the end of the testicle. This didn’t surprise me as it just didn’t feel that abnormal, as far as lumps on testicles go anyway. However I did find my self wondering how I would have dealt with it if he had given me some worrying news.
Mum, I'm going to hospital to get my nuts checked
At this point in my life I was planning a trip to Australia for 3 weeks at Easter, to do a bit of sight seeing and visit a friend. In early March I realised it had been a while since I checked my nuts, (hard to believe being at university) so I decided to see if they were ok. I found another lump in a different area to the last one. It was bigger in size and texture and felt like a small peanut on the side of my testicle. I had a bad feeling about this lump, and almost knew what the diagnosis was going to be. However I made the decision not to go see the doctor as I was due to go to Australia very shortly and if I went there was a good chance I would not be able to. I kept up the regular checks before I left but there was no change in size or shape and I also developed pains in my lower back. I didn’t think much about the pain and whilst away I got my friends to walk on my back to try and get rid of the pain. That didn’t work surprisingly; as i am pretty sure the treatment for cancer is not to stamp it out.
After returning from Australia, I left it a week then went to see the doctor to get my nuts checked again. This was a very different examination and started off in the worst way, cold hands. The doctor didn’t really say a lot either and it felt a little awkward. Immediately after the examination he put some information in an envelope, wrote my name on the front sealed it and sent me on my way to Freeman hospital in Newcastle. I realised there was something wrong and whilst trying to find a bus stop I gave my mum a ring to fill her in on the days news.
'Mum, I'm going to hospital to get my nuts checked', she was instantly worried and told me to call her as soon as I found out anything else.
I finally caught the right bus, but resisted the temptation to peek inside the confidential patient information. When I arrived I was ushered into a standard examination room, bed, curtains, blood pressure tester and a machine you don’t have a clue what it does. A doctor called Mark entered and asked if he could check my nuts, he was the kind of doctor who used all the right terminology so as not to embarrass the patient. 'Hello Mr Lightwood, I’m a doctor, I’ve read the information you have given us and I would like to examine your testicles please.' He gave me a thorough examination and decided to send me for an ultrasound, I told him I wasn’t pregnant, but he sent me anyway.
The ultrasound room was very dark, with an Indian guy who said nothing except “drop your trousers”, no messing around, no foreplay straight to the point. So I lay down on the bed and he whipped out the lube, he smothered jelly all over my stomach and balls, I thought it was a bit OTT but it felt worryingly nice.
He started scanning and I was watching the screen in case I saw a small heart beat, but was more concerned with the pain caused by the scanning tool being pushed all around my stomach and groin. I thought he was going to rupture something, or at lest squash the baby.
The screen was full of white dots, of which he was taking pictures and recording them on to printouts. I asked what all the white dots were but he gave me the silent treatment, finally speaking to me when he had finished and told me I could pull my trousers up. What he didn’t tell me was to wipe the jelly off before doing so, all I needed was a scoop of ice cream and we could have had a party in my pants. I was then sent back to Mark where I waited in a room for some news, instead of Mark a Russian doctor entered and you’ve guessed it told me to whip 'em out. That’s four men today who had the pleasure for feeling my nuts, this one ummed and arred a bit, said something I didn’t really understand to my testicles then left.
I felt used and abused so I took a seat and waited for Mark to tell me what was going on, he entered the room with a nurse and offered me a cup of tea and told me he had some news. Finally, 'milk no sugar, quite strong' I said.
'Martin, you have got a tumour in your testicle, we need to remove it and sent it for examination' he said.
Monday 20th May I was diagnosed with testicular cancer and was about to start the long road to recovery. However my reaction to the news provoked a different response to what they were expecting as I let out a little giggle. All I could picture was my testicle being sent first class royal mail. However I soon realised the severity of the situation as it was written all over the nurses face. He explained the operation procedure and that it was a teratoma tumour, then asked if I would like to phone anyone. I thought I better ring Tom and explain I wasn’t going to make the pub, but I remembered what mum had said and thought I better tell her the news. It hadn’t really sunk in until I spoke to my mum and that’s when I realised it was a little more serious that I thought. I let the nurse tell her all the fine details whilst I came to terms with the last 3 hours of my life. I was left on my own for a while with my cup of tea so I rang Tom and was explaining the news when another man came in the room, he was called Mark Johnson, he was a surgeon and he would be the one who would be removing half of my manhood. I shook his hand, it was firm and steady, which was an instant relief, and he asked me how I was feeling. I had finally me someone today who wanted to talk to me and not feel my nuts, we were getting on well, he was a big bloke, rugby player, didn’t bullshit and I felt in safe hands. H then asked to examine me, that’s five blokes now and I started to wonder if there were any female doctors around. We finished up and he asked me to return in 2 days for the operation. I sat in the lobby waiting for a taxi when a nurse ran over and asked me to follow her, I thought I was going to make it 6, but she just had to go over some admin details.
I finally left the hospital to keep the date with Tom in the pub and let him know the full details of the day. When I arrived he was already there, had two pints on the table, but was shaking like a shitting dog. We chatted about the five men, the ultrasound, the cancer etc and even found a positive, he would get extensions on all his coursework’s and there was a good chance I would too. Later that day t told the rest of my flatmates and explained the benefits, of which they didn’t quite see as easily as Tom did.
No man wants to think about having his testicle removed
That Thursday I went into hospital to have the operation no man wants to even think about, having your testicle removed. I was put in a ward with 5 old boys, who talked about the usual geriatric stuff. I found it hard to get in on the conversation and thought they were ignoring me, but it must have been my imagination. Whilst they were all talking the surgeon cam and asked me if I would like a fake testicle to replace the one they would be removing. I decided I would have one on the agreement they would make it exactly the same as my other one or put a bell in it. They agreed and if your wondering which one I got, well I don’t jingle when I’m running so it must have been the first option. In the morning before the operation I was not allowed to eat or drink, this was not a hindrance and more of a perk of the operation as i've never been a fan of hospital food. I found a permanent marker and drew arrows all over my body pointing to the testicle that needed removing, so as there was no confusion during the critical moment. I remember putting my gown on, arse on show to all around, lying on a bed and getting wheeled to the anaesthetic room. I counted to 4, went to sleep as martin lightwood and I woke up Ernest one bollock.
The recovery room was probably the best and most surreal experience as I learnt to fly, or at least that’s what the morphine made me think. I got back to my ward soon after some oxygen and doing a few laps of the room, where I saw my parents and my flat mates. My parents were pleased to see me and my flat mates ate all my food. I played a game of chase the ace with the lads, and unfortunately I lost, however I think they took advantage of my not quite compos mentis state. After they disappeared leaving me with my parents and the surgeon who came to see how I was getting on. I told him I was ok but my left leg felt funny, in fact I couldn’t feel it at all. He said that when administering the anaesthetic, an extra muscle may have been numbed, thus rendering my left leg useless. I would however get the feeling back within 12 hours, which was good news.
That night when everyone had gone home and all was quiet I decided I would try and make it to the toilet, as pissing in a bed pan wasn’t really my thing. So, I swung my left leg off the bed and touched down on the cold floor with both feet, eased myself onto my feet and locked the legs. Went to move my right leg off the floor, my left leg buckled and I hit the cold floor with a thump. My left leg really was useless, so I pulled myself on to the bed borrowed the old boys walking stick who was having a giggle and proceeded to ‘hop and drag’ my way to the toilet.
The following morning my leg was feeling better and I returned back to my student flat, limping and trying to strain or burst my stitches. I felt like a young kid again, having to crawl up the stairs and come down on my arse.
I had to miss my last exam for university, but they decided to give me a pass mark considering the circumstances. Luckily enough it was the exam that I was dreading, so another bonus for me. I returned to the family home in Nottinghamshire and used a walking to stick to get to the pub for a few days, much to the amusement of my mates, but after that it was easy enough to walk around.
Not long after that I returned to hospital for more tests and scans, to establish whether or not there was any more cancer left in my body. I spoke to my new consultant, Doctor Sokal and unfortunately the news he gave my parents and I was bad. The cancer had spread to my back and the only way of dealing with it was a heavy course of chemotherapy. (so that’s what the back pain was) My parents were gutted and it was a little knock back for me but I maintained the attitude, ‘bring it on’. He told us what the chemotherapy would involve and the possible side affects that I could suffer from. I would have nine weeks of chemotherapy in three week stages, involving 3-4 days in hospital receiving drugs continuously then another two weeks at home receiving injections in my ass or leg (depending on the nurses preference).
I had to visit the sperm bank
After that if the cancer was still in my lymph glands in my back, I would have to have an operation to remove them, leaving me infertile. The possible side affects are hair loss, nausea vomiting, infections, acne, weight gain, hearing loss, Reynaud’s disease, infertility and loss of breathing. I almost ran out of paper writing these down and unfortunately I managed to suffer from nearly all of them. The chemo would start on the 12th June and was one of the hardest things I have had to endure.
Having chemotherapy and a possible operation meant that I may not be able to have kids naturally in the future, so I had to visit the sperm bank first to deposit a specimen. Finally something I could look forward to and I made three appearances, one for my country. After the first deposit I had to get more results, to check if I was firing blanks or not. I think I was more nervous about these results than the previous cancer diagnosis. The next few words I heard made my father and I very proud, “Martin, the results are in and I’m pleased to say you have TREMENDOUS VOLUME”. I walked out of the hospital with a swagger and a smile from ear to ear. The second time I went to the sperm bank was the morning of the World Cup game between England and Argentina. Timings were tight as it was an early kick off so Tom accompanied me for moral support. Dressed in my England shirt, that day I was wanking for England. I left Tom in the Hospital shop where he bought a paper, whilst I went off to gain my first international cap. No sooner had he got the page 3, I had finished and we drove home at top speed with three lions on repeat and straight to the pub.
12th June, I was due to go to hospital and start chemotherapy; however you have to pass a blood test before you can start. You have to have enough red and white blood cells so that your body will be ok during the chemo. You have to wait about an hour or so for these results then you have to wait as long as it takes before a bed becomes free. Luckily it all went to plan that day and it wasn’t long before I was lay down with a drip attached receiving my first course. It took 3 throws to get the needle into my vein, I felt like a dart board. The chemo involved having a solution of drugs constantly being fed into your body via drip. This wasn’t the worst session for me but I felt sick and didn’t eat a thing for the entire duration. I came out of the first session feeling like shit and was in bed for 4 days after recovering. The only thing I could eat due to smell and tastes was fruit, but after those 4 days I was back to normal again. Over the next 2 weeks I received 2 injections in my leg, nothing major just a short sharp trip to hospital then your away again.
After 3 weeks I was all fired up and ready for my second bout of hell, I was sat in the hospital waiting for a bed when the news cam through that my blood count wasn’t high enough to receive treatment. This was gut wrenching for me as all I wanted to do was get it over and done with. They postponed it for another week so it was a long wait to see if could receive treatment.
The day of chemo soon came round and I was back in hospital for more blood tests, I didn’t get my hopes up this time as I didn’t want to be disappointed again. Luckily, my blood levels were good so I was given the ok for my next course. This session was the worst of all; it felt like I was slowly dying for 3 days. I may have made it worse by deciding to go the natural route and refusing anti sickness tablets. This was a big mistake, and one I would not make again. This session was when the nausea and vomiting started; every time I went to the toilet I was sick. However because I wasn’t eating, I was just heaving and gagging for 2 minutes at a time. Toilet trips were frequent during chemo as they are pumping liquid into your body continuously and it all needs to come out. Certain smells affected me in a big way during and after chemotherapy, the smell of cardboard and paper really turned my stomach and as I had to piss into cardboard pots, that was why I was sick every time I used the toilet. This was also the reason why I found it hard to read a newspaper for weeks after. This session of chemo felt like it would never end, and the support from my friends and family was gratefully appreciated. It finally ended after 3 days and I spent a week in bed recovering at home.
Whilst at home you have to use mouth wash before sleeping to stop infections in the mouth. Mouthwash was one of the tastes that affected me, but rather than make me sick it would make my mouth produce excess saliva. In the evenings I would lay with my head off the end of the bed and a bowl underneath for 30 mins to catch the ever streaming river of saliva.
It was at this point in my course that I started to lose my hair, first noticed by a friend in the pub when he rubbed my head. He went silent and just stared at the top of my head; I saw hair start to fall to the floor and gave him a rub to show I didn’t care. Shortly after it all fell out and I was bald from head to toe.
I looked like a muppet
You get some strange looks when you are young with a completely bald head, some people not realising told me I looked like a muppet. I didn’t mind, I did look like a muppet, but if I was feeling in a devious mood I would reply by telling them this is what they would look like after 6 weeks of chemotherapy. I would let them feel guilty for a second then give them a hug as to say no hard feelings. I didn’t care, they didn’t know so what’s the point in anyone getting upset. Anytime when I could have got upset, it normally ended up in laughter, whether it was because I didn’t care or I was still picturing my testicle in the royal mail sorting office I found it hard to feel down.
The last session of chemo was due again and I was expecting to get sent home again due to my blood count. Unfortunately this was the case but I was back 3 days later, ready for what I hoped was my last session. When your in hospital for 3 day laying in a bed you get a lot of time on your hands, when its not visiting time I usually spent it day dreaming, thinking or being sick. My friends and parents were a great help to me, there wasn’t a visiting time where I didn’t have a group of people around my bed bringing me gifts and sitting on my drip tubes. They even came into the hospital with my England shirt for the Romania game where we watched it with a few other residents. They gave up there own time for me and it meant a lot, I was proud to have such good friends and i’m sure it lifted my spirits.
Some people look for inspiration when faced with a challenge like this and they didn’t need to look much further than Lance Armstrong who beat the odds and has inspired many people all over the world. I like to think I inspired myself, however looking back on how my parents dealt with the situation I think they both inspired me. Both of them putting on a brave face when times were tough, smiling and thinking positive. At the time I wasn’t aware of it but looking back I think they inspired me to keep my chin up and push on.
I tried to think what I could compare chemotherapy to, and after much deliberation, I decided that I don’t think there is much that can compare. Getting over a potentially life threatening illness is something I am very proud of, and I think my friends and family are too. Having cancer didn’t just affect me it affected everyone, my friends, my family, the doctors and nurses and the people who gave up their time for me. All to who I am eternally grateful too.
Before I started chemotherapy, Doctor Sokal told me, there was a good chance I would have to receive an operation to remove the dead cells from my back. This was something that I dreaded, as it would mean I would become infertile and not be ale to have kids naturally. After all my chemotherapy I went for my final scans and x-rays to analyse the cells in my back. We were summoned into the Doctors office and sat down awaiting the date of the operation. What followed was the biggest surprise and probably the greatest news myself and parents have ever had. The doctor told me that I had reacted very well to chemotherapy and there was no need for the operation. 27th August 2002, I was given the all clear, I was finally cancer free.
I will never forget that feeling, the smile on my face did not go for weeks, I spent the next hour ringing everybody I knew to share the good news. They were equally as happy and my family and friends could breathe a sigh of relief. I always mark this day each year with a drink and reflection of how lucky I had been.
Lance Armstrong once said if he were to choose between having cancer or winning the Tour de France, he would choose cancer. I think he must have still been on morphine.
Remission: When you’re in remission, you still have to make regular trips to hospital to have a few scans and x-rays to make sure it doesn’t return. At the start this is done on a 3 monthly basis, then after a few years it moves to a 6 monthly basis. After a few more years it becomes an annual visit and after 10 years you never have to return again.
I’m currently 9 years all clear and have only 10 months left until my 10th anniversary. I have recently got married and we are planning our first child. If you had told me this 10 years ago I would have been very dubious, however I have never been happier.
Martin Lightwood was studying business and IT at Northumbria University when he wrote this article.
Page created on September 28th, 2011
Page updated on September 28th, 2011