This is a brilliant insight in to his cancer story….
So here’s a story. One that’s funny in parts. Emotional in others. Has a serious message. And hasn’t quite ended yet. Turns out, I’ve got cancer. Testicular cancer. But I’m still a young man, cancer’s for old people right? Turns out not.
Story starts about 6 weeks ago, when I’m sitting on my sofa watching Match of the Day, playing with my balls as I usually do. Didn’t notice that lump before. Probably nothing. Next day, find myself playing with my balls more, which the girl at the checkout counter found quite off putting, but still not really taking it that seriously. 4 weeks down the line, I’m getting more and more obsessed with this lumpy bollock. Am I imagining it? Was it always like that? Has it changed since I first noticed it? Another couple of weeks after I decide I need a second opinion. Call the wife up to have a feel. She laughs cos she thinks I’m getting frisky. Face drops a little when she realises I’m not. But she’s not a testicle specialist, and she can’t really tell if anything’s out of the ordinary, so it’s off to the doctors with me.
Waiting for the doctor’s surgery to answer that phone felt like the longest ‘You’re on hold, please wait’ queue of my life. Didn’t they know, this is my manhood on the line here? Eventually get an appointment, it’s for an hour with the nurse. “She’s ok with looking at testicles?” I ask. “Yes, Yes, she’s skilled in that area”. Awesome, don’t want unskilled people handling my balls thanks very much. Mind starts wandering as to what it might be. Still, no worries, it’s probably just a cyst or something right? Or my left nut is within normal limits and it’s just my imagination.
Get to the doctor’s, tell the story, and turns out the nurse would rather the duty doctor check me over. I’m not shy, I spent my uni days as a physio in next to no clothes, but for some reason taking my trousers off this time feels different. We shuffle the kids from one room to the other, nurse says it’s ok for them to come with me, I tell her I’m not comfortable with my 7 year old daughter and 3 year old son watching another man fondle my balls. They stay with her. Doctor gets me to stand in front of him and looks at my naked Johnson. He wants to see how they hang first. Wait what? Is that an actual medical assessment? How they hang?
Apparently so. As within about 5 seconds of looking at my hanging balls he says “I’m referring you to a specialist”. “Um. Ok. So it’s serious” I think. But I don’t have much time to think as the doctor then opens the door to go inform the nurse. I’m still stood there with my junk on display by the way! In fairness to him he realised quickly and apologised and shut the door, but pretty sure the little old Doris just outside has an unfortunate image she’s struggling to get rid of. The nurse explains the next step to me, and I’m impressed as she fills out the referral and sends it there and then. And then I see the title on the form. Urology Cancer Screen. (Learn More here) Cancer. Just jumping right out at me off the monitor. Fuck. Really? Ok, I’m a health professional, I can deal with it, I’m ok…. Let’s go get a haircut.
So as we’re walking out, the kids start asking questions. “Everything alright daddy? You’re not sick are you?”. “Of course not kids, just need to get my friends at the hospital to check more closely” I lie through my teeth. Maybe it’s not a lie, maybe it is nothing and the doctor’s just covering his arse. Yeah probably that. Short back and sides please Mr. hairdresser. Then the usual idle football banter starts with him, but this time I’m thinking “I don’t give a shit if you think Chelsea are going to walk the rest of the season, I might have cancer you douche”. Then I catch myself. Life goes on. Why would he care anyway? All he’d lose is my 8 quid every 6 weeks and some bloke complaining about Leyton Orient going down the pan. Life goes on…
So I go out for the day with my kids, we go to a castle and do a treasure hunt, and suddenly I’m like superdad. I’m totally invested in everything they’re doing, I don’t lose my rag or shout at them once, I pick them up when their legs get tired and we stay there for ages. Amazing what a life threatening condition can do for parenting skills! Then I get a phone call which brings me down to earth with a bump. It’s the hospital. They’ll see me on Wednesday. That’s 2 days away. 2 days. This is the NHS. Stuff doesn’t happen in 2 days. I know cos I work there. Unless it’s serious. Then stuff gets done quick. Shit.
Those 2 days go slowly. I’m back at work but not really focused. I resent my patients for moaning about their conditions. “You’re lucky” I think. I tell my boss that I’m off my game, and the reason. She’s incredibly understanding. Thank you. I stay busy, people notice I’m not my usual chirpy self. “I’m fine” I say. Until I’m not fine, and I say as much, which catches a few unaware. Feel bad for doing that. Then it’s 2.50 on Wednesday afternoon. And the walk to the urology department feels like I’m on death row. Check in, sit down, and wait. Looking around, damn I feel young. Everyone else here must be over 60. What am I doing here? Why has this happened? Surely it’s a mistake? “Andrew Lowden”. My name is called like a judge’s sentence…
The doctor talks a little but we get down to business quickly, and before I know it I’m on the plinth with my ballsack on display. “Fast mover” I think to myself. He has a little juggle, then asks if his specialist nurse colleague can have a feel. I make her promise to never make eye contact with me in the corridors after this moment and she has a feel. “Feel that?” The doc says. “That’s a tumour”. Is he talking to me or her? Tumour? Is that cancer? I should know this, I’m a medical person. Tumour means cancer right? Why has time stopped. Aaaaaargh!
So we sit down and he talks something at me about different types of tumour which I don’t quite understand. He seems pretty happy though which I find odd. Then he starts making plans and I feel myself going along with it. Ok, this is happening, time to man up Lowden. I need an ultrasound scan? Sure, let’s do it. You need my blood? Go ahead. You want to chop off my left nut? Absolutely… wait what.. yeah absolutely. The Macmillan Nurse took me off to make sure I’d understood everything, and whilst we discussed the surgery called an orchiectomy, the possible chemo, and whether I get a fake bollock put in or not all I could really think was ‘This woman was squeezing my balls 2 minutes ago’! “What’s the benefits of a fake bollock?” I asked. “Nothing really, some blokes like it and it’s cosmetic”. Cosmetic? It’s not like I go around with my nut sack on display regularly. Well not since university anyway. This was not a decision that I could make alone, and I knew my wife was waiting at home for the results of my clinic appointment. Is this the kind of thing I can tell her over the phone? Surely I should do it face to face? But I’m gonna be here another hour or so I think. Can it wait that long? Then my fingers were dialling…
“Are you being serious?” Those words will resonate with me forever. “Ok. Ok. Ok.” I could hear her voice trembling a little as I recounted the various bits of information I’d just received. She wasn’t Ok, she was clearly struggling, and I just wanted to be home and giving her a hug but I had these damn tests to go to. Damn tests that would tell me what I already knew deep down. “There’s positives” I tried to reassure her. “It’s probably curable. Not just treatable but curable. The odds are in my favour”. Weird, but I’m there thinking I’ve been lucky. I tell her I’ve got these tests and hang up on the hardest phone call I’ve ever had to make.
But this is where the NHS kicked into overdrive and proved why it’s the best health service in the world. It was just before 4 o’clock and I needed a chest xray, ultrasound scan and my bloods taken. On arriving at radiology I got treated like a VIP, whisked through for my xray then straight into ultrasound. No one really said much as they did their tests, although I thought the little tissue paper hammock the guy used to hoist up my balls was ingenious. Then up to outpatients where the girls were just leaving work but kind enough to take my bloods. “Why’s everyone being so nice to me? Must be the physio uniform I’m wearing… oh. Maybe it’s the other thing”.
As I walked through the front door I didn’t quite know what to do or what to say. I was somewhere between an accepting smile and puppy dog eyes when Susie flung herself around my neck and didn’t let go. That was exactly what I needed, as is her standard Andy-reading behaviour, and I tried to lose myself in her shoulder. Thankfully the kids were on a sleepover at the in-laws, and I spent the rest of the evening discussing our options with my wife whilst drinking copious amounts of gin. The alcohol helped for sure, although the wife won’t agree with me on that.
Next day at work I bit the bullet and decided that people should be made aware. I knew I’d been a bit of a moody idiot earlier in the week, and didn’t want to upset people. The reactions varied from “OMG” to speechless to “thought something was up”, but every single person was supportive. I found talking about it openly really helped me to come to terms with it, and was even able to start making jokes about it. Was that right? Should I be feeling sorry for myself? Who cares, this was about me dealing with it in my way. The doctor from the previous evening got in touch and asked me to come see him again. Oh crap. He’s found something nasty on the scans. Turns out not. Bloods were essentially normal except for one showing a tumour was present, and we knew that from the scan and a left nut the size of Alaska. We discuss the next steps and he tells me I’m already booked for surgery next week. 6 days time. So hold on, 9 days after I show up waving my balls at my GP, I’ll have been scanned, tested, consulted, educated and operated on. Who says the NHS is in crisis? That’s a damn good service right there.
The rest of the week I try and carry on as normal as possible. I spend my day focusing on work, with sporadic discussions about my diagnosis and the plans next week. There’s a surprising amount of laughter about things related, and this helps me. I go out on Friday night with a lot of my work colleagues for a previously planned party, smash everyone at beer pong, get off my face and dance like a dad as the oldest person in a club. This isn’t unusual I should add.
The days between then and now are indiscriminate. I’ve had countless conversations with family members, text chats with friends, ponderings with my wife. They all make me feel a little better about life, about the future, about what’s about to happen. But here I am. Anxious about Wednesday. Excited, yet scared shitless. Ready, yet so unprepared. The luckiest unlucky bloke. But determined. Determined to get through this and win. Determined to be the husband and father my family need from me. Determined to be a better friend than I have. And also determined that this crappy disease doesn’t catch anyone else.
So please, if you’ve read all this to the end, do something for me. Share this post amongst your friends, male and female. Men – check your balls regularly. Women – check your fella’s balls regularly. Let’s make the second day of the week Testicle Tuesday. If you think you’ve found something, get checked out by a health professional. If not, enjoy the fact you played with your balls and laugh. This is just the start of my journey, and I hope to catch up with you all very soon.