'Martin, you have a tumour in your testicle'
Some 2000 blokes get testicular cancer every year. Martin Lightwood was one of them.
The first time I heard about testicular cancer was when I was told that it was the most common thing that men from 18 to 21 years old were going into hospital to overcome. From that day when I was about 17 years old I made a habit of checking my nuts regularly. I was already checking they work regularly but this time I was searching for abnormal lumps that shouldn't be there. For some reason I was always curious about how I would deal with something like cancer, and I think that's why I reacted as I did when I was told I had the disease.
Testicular cancer was always something that was joked about in the pub when I would initiate regular nut checks amongst my friends. It was something that wasn't taken very seriously at the time but now I'm quite glad that it happened as it made me more aware. When I first thought I had testicular cancer was when I was watching a TV programme in my bedroom and they were explaining how to check your nuts for lumps. Being a red blooded male I thought I would have a scratch and to my surprise I felt a small lump about the size of a biscuit crumb. I thought that is a bit of a coincidence and decided it couldn't be anything as it was so small and carried on as normal.
After a few weeks I thought I should go and see a doctor as it was still there. Now the thought of having doctor Healy's hands cupping my bollocks was not the most exciting prospect that day but I went through with it anyway. To my relief the doctor had warm hands and also said it was only a swollen epidermis, which is like a vein that runs around that area. In a way I think I knew that it wasn't going to be cancer. However I found myself thinking what if he said it was how would I have dealt with that situation.
Now, my girlfriend Alex had gone travelling the previous October for a year and I was planning a trip over there for three weeks on Easter to see her. In early March I realised I hadn't checked my nuts for a while so I gave them a feel and I found another lump. It was in a different place to the other one and was bigger in size, kind of like the size of a peanut. Now this is when I kind of new that this was cancer as it just seemed different. This is also when I made the decision that I wasn't going to go to the doctors until I got back from Australia. I knew if I did that he would have told me that I wouldn't be able to go on holiday to see Alex. I kept checking regularly all the time before I left and when I was away and the lump didn't change or disappear. When I was in Australia I developed a pain in my lower back that was causing a lot of discomfort. I thought it was just back ache and so I was getting Alex and Tinley to jump on my back to try and crack it. That didn't work, as it is pretty hard to stamp cancer out of someone's back.
When I returned from my holiday I left it a week and went to the doctors to get my nuts checked again. This time when he was checking the doctor didn't say much and it was very quick. Immediately after he wrote a name on an envelope and put some information in it. I was a bit spun off but then he told me that he was sending me to Freeman Hospital to get it checked for a second opinion and that was it, he pointed me in the right direction. I realised that there was something wrong and there was good chance that this wasn't just speculation so I rang mum. 'Mum' I said 'I'm going to hospital to get my nuts checked', she was a bit spun off and told me to ring her as soon as I knew anything. I made the journey to hospital and saw a doctor called Mark Thompson who wanted to check my nuts as well. He was the kind of doctor who tried to say everything so he wouldn't embarrass his patients.
He soon realised that he could call it what he wanted and I didn't really care about embarrassment. He gave me a thorough examination and decided to send me for an ultrasound, I told him I wasn't pregnant and I didn't need it but he sent me anyway.
The ultra sound room was very dark with an guy who said jack shit apart from 'drop your trousers please', so I did.
I lay down and he scooped some jelly out of a tub and smothered it on my balls. The jelly was cold but felt quite nice, which worried me. He started with the scanning thing and it was painful he pressed so hard around my nuts and on my stomach I thought he was going to rupture something or at least squash the baby. He was looking at the screen and taking pictures of all these white dots that were spread everywhere. I tried to ask him what they were but he just gave me the silent treatment again. When he finished he finally spoke to tell me I could pull my trousers up so I did - only to cover my kegs in that jelly stuff. He then gave me a towel to wipe the jelly off and I was like 'Cheers mate but I think it's tot late'. He eventually sent me back to Mark Thompson where I waited until this Russian doctor came in, sat down and - you guessed it - said 'drop em'. That's four men now today that had the pleasure of feeling my nuts. This one though felt them, hummed a bit, said something I didn't really understand and walked off, although he seemed to be talking to my nuts rather than my face.
I sat around for a while longer and Mark Thompson came in with a nurse and offered me a cuppa, as they wanted to talk to me. Monday 20th May, this was it, when he was going to tell me what the hell is going on and whether anyone else wanted to feel my nuts. He sat right in front of me and proceeded to tell me the score. 'Martin you have got a tumour in your testicle and we are going to have to remove it and send it for examination'. My question: 'Where are you sending my testicle?'. Then I imagined my testicle getting put in an envelope and posted to someone who would examine it. I suddenly burst into laughter which lasted a few seconds and I think it spun him and the nurse off, then I looked at his eyes which told me this wasn't the reaction he was expecting or looking for. Then I realised what he actually said, he explained to me the procedure for the operation and that it was a teratoma tumour. After all the talking he asked if I would like to phone anyone, immediately I thought Dayko, but realised I better ring mum. It hadn't really sunk in until I spoke to mum and that's when I realised it was a little bit more serious than I thought. I explained all the procedures to her and then left it to the nurse to explain the things I didn't know about. Immediately after I rang Dayko to tell him the news and meet up with him for a drink when I got out of hospital.
I was left on my own for a while to contemplate, before another guy came in who was a surgeon, the guy who would be removing my nut. I shook his hand and it seemed like it was steady enough to make an incision so delicate and precise. He then took me off for a talk about the operation and generally asking how I was feeling. This was a relief I had finally met someone who didn't want to feel my nuts, we were getting on well and I liked him, he was a big bloke who used to play a lot of rugby and didn't bullshit either. Then he asked if he could examine me, that's five blokes in one day, I felt like a slag. We finally finished up and he told me to come in the following Thursday for the operation. I sat in the lobby waiting for a taxi when a nurse ran over and said I had to follow her so I did, and I thought I was going to make it six but she just wanted to check some details with me.
I finally left the hospital in a taxi heading for the pub to meet Dayko and when I met him he was a nervous wreck shaking all over the place. He seemed to take it worse than mum or me. But we soon found a good side to it all, as he didn't have to hand his coursework in today, he could do the following week now because he had to look after me. This meant he could finally get started on it. Dayko seemed to do quite well out of it, missing more exams than I did and getting extensions on most coursework. Later that day I told the rest of my flatmates and explained the benefits that Dayko and me had realised but they didn't seem so eager.
That Thursday I went into hospital to have half my manhood removed, I was in a ward with 5 old boys who talked about the war quite a lot.
The surgeon asked me if I would like to have a fake bollock put in the place of the one they have removed and decided to have one as long as it was big.
I was a bit worried that they might take the wrong one during the operation so I made them draw arrows all over my body pointing to the left hand bollock.
In the morning I wasn't allowed to eat or drink anything 2-3 hours previous to my operation which I didn't mind that much as the food wasn't that good. I remember getting gowned up ready for the operation and getting wheeled down to the operating room where I saw Mark again. I was given the anaesthetic and that was it, I went to sleep Martin and woke up Ernest one bollock.
The recovery room was probably the best part out of the whole experience as I got to fly, well at least that's what the morphine made me think. I got back to the ward after a bit of oxygen and saw my parents and flatmates. My flatmates ate all the food I was given and challenged me to a game of cards, well I was concentrating on flying still but I played anyway, we played chase the ace and the loser was the person who ended up with the ace. There was no surprise who the loser was but I think they were cheating. My friends disappeared and I spoke to the surgeon who operated on me, he asked how I was feeling and if everything felt all right. I told him my leg felt funny so he told me that when he was putting an anaesthetic in my muscle he put it in the wrong muscle by accident and numbed the whole of my left leg. I didn't get the feeling back till the next day.
That night when everyone had gone and it was quiet I needed the toilet. I threw my leg off the bed and eased myself off onto my feet with my knees locked. I was up and all I had to do was walk so I bent my left leg and the next thing that hit me was the floor. I pulled my self up onto the bed again and proceeded to hop and drag my way to the toilet, using the bloke's walking stick who was in the bed next to me.
The following morning I returned home from the hospital limping and trying not to strain and burst my stitches. Going up and down stairs was a bit of a nightmare but I got the hang of it eventually.
I had to miss one exam for university but they let me off it considering the circumstances, I was lucky coz it was the hardest exam out of the lot. When I returned home I spent a week using a walking stick to get me from place to place much to the amusement of everyone else. But after a week it was easy enough to walk around on.
I then returned to the hospital for scans and x-rays to check whether there was any cancer left in my body. I went with my parents to see a consultant and the news was bad, the cancer had spread to my lower back and the only way to deal with it was to have a heavy course of chemotherapy. This was pretty gutting for my parents and I think they were fairly upset. I took it on the chin and left with the attitude 'bring it on'. I was scheduled an appointment with another consultant at city hospital in Nottingham, he was called Doctor Sokal and he would be in charge of my chemotherapy. So we had another day at the hospital waiting to see Dr Sokal and he explained to us what kind of chemotherapy I would have to endure and the side affects that I could suffer.
I would have to have nine weeks of chemotherapy in three-week stages. I would go into hospital and have about three to four days of chemotherapy depending on delays, then I would spend the other two weeks at home but receive an injection twice either in my ass or in my leg. The possible side effects of chemotherapy are: hair loss, nausea, vomiting, infection, acne (steroids), weight gain (steroids), hearing loss, reynards disease, infertility and loss of breathing. When the doctor reeled off that list I thought, 'is that it?'. I managed to suffer from nearly all of them I think, so that was lucky. The chemo would start on the 12th June and would become one of the hardest things I have ever had to endure.
Having chemotherapy and a possible operation meant that if I wanted to make sure I could have kids in the future, I had to go to the sperm bank at the hospital. At last something I could look forward to, and I made three appearances. I had to get results on whether I was firing blanks the first time I went and I was more nervous about these than my cancer results. Luckily the nurse confirmed that I had tremendous volume and I could finally make my dad proud. The second time I went Dayko accompanied me, the morning of the England V Argentina World Cup game. Today I was wanking for England and I didn't let the team down, I left Dayko to buy a paper and sit in the waiting room while I did the business. By the time Dayko had sat down and opened his paper it was time to go, much to his amazement, so we raced home to the pub.
12th June I was due to just go to hospital and have chemotherapy but it is not that easy, you have to have a blood test first to check whether your blood count is high enough to receive treatment. Then you have to wait around for hours to get the results, and then you have to wait for a bed. So you're not guaranteed to get treatment on the day your expecting. Luckily all was good for me and I was able to receive treatment and get a bed quite early so I was up and running and having drugs pumped through me for three days constantly. The first bout of chemo wasn't the worst for me, I still felt sick and couldn't eat a thing for the whole time I was in hospital but the worst was still to come. I came out of hospital feeling like shit and was in bed for about 4 days, and the only thing I could eat was fruit but after that I was back to normal. The injections you have inbetween chemo bouts are not the most pleasant feeling and the needle is huge and they stick it in your thigh or your ass depending on the nurse.
After three weeks I was all fired up and ready for my second session and I went to hospital as usual, however this time my blood count was too low to receive treatment. This was gut wrenching for me as the only thing I wanted to do was get it over and done with, so postponing it for a week was a disaster.
The day of chemo soon came round again and I was back in hospital to have more blood tests, I didn't get my hopes up this time as I did not want to be disappointed again. Luckily my blood was OK and I could undertake my second course of chemo. This session was the worst out of the lot and felt like I was trying to be killed for three days. I might have made myself feel worse by trying the natural route this time by not taking any anti sickness tablets. This was a mistake that I wouldn't make again throughout my course of chemotherapy. This session was when the nausea and vomiting started and was at it's worse; every time I went to the toilet I was sick. Toilet breaks were frequent during chemotherapy as fluid was being pumped into your body constantly, that meant you had to keep getting rid of it. It wasn't the thought of or the smell of the toilet that made me sick, it was the smell of the cardboard pots I had to piss into. Each time I needed to go I realised I was going to have to smell this, so I would spend most my time retching. I would try and hold my breath for the duration of going in and out of the toilet to the point when I almost feint. I found it very hard to read a newspaper for weeks after my last session, as it would make me feel like throwing up again. This session seemed like it was never going to end but finally it did and I spent about a week lying in bed recovering.
As you can see from the photo my head was patchy. It was at this point in time my hair was falling out rapidly all over my body.You get some strange looks when you are young with a baldhead, some people not realising what was going on told me I looked like a muppet. My reply was 'well this is what you look like after six weeks of chemotherapy', normally resulting in a swift apology. This kind of thing didn't really bother me; I found it hard to get upset about the situation. Sometimes I thought, why am I not crying and getting miserable, and I even tried to breakdown? This always resulted in laughter, as I would see the funny side of everything.
The last session of chemo was due again and this time I was expecting to be turned away again because of my blood. Unfortunately, this was the case but I was in hospital three days later receiving treatment. When you are in hospital for three days you have a lot of time on your hands and I normally spent it thinking or puking. My friends and parents were a great help all the way through the ordeal, visiting whenever they got the chance and bringing gifts to cheer me up. I didn't have much to feel down about I thought, as when you look around the ward I've got it easy. Some people have got a far worse form of illness and are in hospital constantly.
Some people look for inspiration when faced with a challenge like this, and they don't have to look any further than Lance Armstrong who I think is an inspiration to people all over the world. I liked to think that I inspired myself, not letting my self feel down or feel sorry for myself. I was always looking for ways to make myself feel better and one thing that always cheered me up was visitors. My friends were the biggest help of all, sacrificing things so they could come to hospital and cheer me up.
I thought about what I could compare chemotherapy to, and after a while I realised I couldn't compare it to anything in my experience, and this was the shit. Getting over a potentially life threatening disease is something I am proud of, and I think my friends and family are too. Having cancer didn't just affect me but it affected everyone who knew about it, especially my family. It was a hard time for my parents, but I think they dealt with it extremely well. They kept asking me whether I was being strong to show encouragement to them, I wasn't consciously but I think now when I look back I may have been not knowing myself I was doing it.
Before I started chemotherapy Doctor Sokal told me I would more than likely have to have an operation at the end of it all to remove the dead cells from my back that were infected. This was something I was dreading as it meant I would not be able to have kids naturally. I went in for the results of my scan and x-ray with my parents expecting to get the date of my operation. This was the biggest surprise and possibly the happiest day of my parent's life, and mine as the doctor gave me the all clear. 27th August 2002 I was finally cancer free.
Martin Lightwood was studying business and IT at Northumbria University when he wrote this article.
Page created on January 1st, 2003
Page updated on April 26th, 2013