Men’s Health Issues: My Testicular Cancer Experience

Testicular cancer accounts for about 1% of all cancers. It’s fairly rare. It generally affects men between 20 and 34 years old so it does have a disproportionate socioeconomic impact.

Men's Health

Stage A pure Seminoma has over an 95% cure rate.  The treatment is a surgical removal of the testicle and then irradiating the inguinal region with radiation.

I was 29 years old, right on the median age. I was living with my girlfriend on South Granville, Vancouver. Nice apartment, I had a good job, good life. I step out of the shower, dry off and walk naked to the couch and sit down. She’s watching TV and reaches over without looking at me and starts to fondle my testicles, “What’s that?” “What’s what?” “That lump?” “There’s a lump?” You don’t really want to get the news. “Is it like that in the other one?” “No.”

I figured if they are both like that then maybe it’s normal. I went to the bedroom and I’m feeling around and I remembered reading about this somewhere, and in the morning I make an appointment to see a MD on 4th Ave, in Kitsalano.

I’d seen this guy before for various boxing related injuries and he wasn’t too interested. He’s sitting sideways to me at a desk with some paperwork. “What can I do for you?” “I have a lump.” “Where?” “It’s in my left testicle.”

testicular cancer diagnosis chart

Now he changes, he turns and looks at me—He’s interested now. He stands up and walks into the adjacent examination room. “Come in here…” I’m glued to my chair “Come in here.”

I go in there and get on the table and lower my trousers. He’s feeling, “What are my chances?” I say this sotto voco, “Gimme your worst!” “Oh, about 97%.”

I was still scared though. It’s me, it’s my balls and cancer carries a kick to it. It’s a scary disease. My mom had a mastectomy seven year prior to my cancer. I didn’t want to be one of the three percent. When I get home from the doctors I phone my parents. She picks up, but I can’t speak, I’m weeping. “What’s wrong?” “I have a lump.” “Where?!” “It’s in my left testicle. I’m scared!” “I know baby.”

The next day I see the urologist. He examines me and he says, “I’m almost sure of what this is. I see about two thousand patients a year and see this maybe twice.” He asks if I had an un-descended testicle, that’s a risk factor. Asks about the mumps, which I did have, actually the risk factors are low altogether because it is a fairly rare disease. What I had was the best possible prognosis.  For one thing I had undifferentiated cancer cells that were easily eradicated with radiation and if you catch it early like I did then—If you wait too long it metastasizes to the sternum and then to the lymph nodes and then that’s real trouble. Then you’re fighting to your life. Chemo and all that shit, which half kills you itself.

The surgery was scheduled for 6:30 am at Mount Saint Joseph’s Hospital off Kingsway in East Vancouver. They prepped me, shaved me and so on; the actual orchiectomy was brief like 45 minutes. They make the incision in the inguinal area and pull it up through there. They injected something into my spine that paralyzed me. My parents were there of course, they had come over from Victoria to be with me.

Here is the memorable part. When it was over a nurse woke me up. “Wake up! It’s over!” She’s shaking me. I’m totally aware but my voice sounds groggy. I’m almost unintelligible. But what happens is I begin to become aware of the massive pain, the massive insult of a surgical castration. It was so far off the scale of any prior experience that it seemed like it would kill me dead on the spot. I couldn’t begin to integrate it. I’m trying to say something. “Bit of pain here…”

She doesn’t respond. I felt a thrill of fear, pure panic, “PAIN, PAIN–!” “Okay! Okay, we’ll get you something!” And they got me the Demerol.  Demerol is not the best pain killer. Now they use morphine. Anyway for the next 24 or so hours they gave me a maintenance shot every four hours and the stuff wore off after three hours. So I just lay there moaning and I was in a room with another guy who was moaning, a chorus. About 11am the day following the surgery I walked out of there bow legged.

Post-op I’m seeing various doctors and having cat scans and lymph-o-grams and at this time you were likely getting the best medical attention in the world. The system wasn’t overburdened like it is now. Think about it: 3 DAYS. That’s how long before I was under the knife.

But anyway, they are already scheduling me for the radiation. The only trouble is that my mom doesn’t think I should do it. She’s bitter about her surgery and feels that they could have done a lumpectomy rather than a radical mastectomy. She also started following a macrobiotic diet after her cancer and she convinces me to do the same. There is a lot of merit to that food program overall. I also quit smoking pot because that may have been a contributor and I was smoking about eight joints a day. I was a heavy user.

mortality rate

This goes on for about three months. Finally I go into Vancouver General and an urologist there he shows me an x-ray with one of my inguinal lymph nodes shadowed. “We don’t know what this is but we can’t rule out a metastasis. I give in; I’m tired of feeling insecure. See my mom had even been against the surgery at first, but I didn’t bother listening to that. She was a strong willed woman with influence in my life, but I have a will of my own and I wanted that tumor out of me.

I banked some sperm before the treatments started; I got 20,000 rads over ten sessions, a standard course of treatment. It wasn’t too bad, sometimes nausea. I was sleeping for 15 hours at a stretch. I wasn’t working of course. It was unpleasant but nowhere near as toxic as chemo. For instance, I only lost my pubic hair. I had sunburn on my abdomen, it looked like sunburn, and I felt beat up around there. Radiation is strange, you can’t see it or hear it or smell or taste it, but you can feel it. A nurse had marked me out prior to my treatments with little black blue dots. She used a pin and ink. I still have them of course.

They put a lead boot over my testicles. I mean they told me before the treatment that I be partially sterilized for six months and there was also a 50% chance of permanent sterilization. It was a fifty/fifty bet and I lost. I checked a year and a half later and I’m sterile and that’s that. It gave me pause at the time, but not everybody is meant to have children, children of their own.

I got to live and that’s the deal. I used the cancer as motivation to make major changes in my life and a year later I was broken up with my girlfriend, quit from my secure job at a cemetery and I moved to the States.

In retrospect it was a piece of cake. When I walked down the stairs from the MD’s office on 4th Ave, I KNEW I’d live and it had nothing to do with 97%, but I felt a light shine on me. I’d been looking for something like that, some life changing event, something big, and that was it.

Jesse Kaellis

About Jesse Kaellis

I am a published author and professional blogger. I write nonfiction. The title of my book, “Early Out”, is casino terminology that I explain somewhere in my narrative. Enjoy your stay!

Jesse Kaellis’ Early Out

“Early Out” is shocking, moving and gritty. Much more than a chronicle of a life lived “on the edge”, these stories sweep us along on the writer’s journey as he sinks deeper and deeper into the underbelly of Las Vegas glitz – succumbing to the lure of hard drugs and sex. Most impressive are his crystalline insights, delivered with the raw, terse directness of a knock-out punch. Kaellis possesses a rare voice, emitting flashes of raw genius and great humanity. Read it!

Review by A. Rowsome, April 17, 2012

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