Nuts, a ball and other four-letter words. A young man’s journey with testicular cancer. Part 3

This is Part 3 in a series. Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

I don’t think I have ever been so devastated in my life and I never want to be again. I’ve never had to use the word devastated before, but that’s what I was. I’ve lost my left ball for fuck’s sake! I cried until I couldn’t breathe and then I cried more. My body hurt like hell from the surgery and my lungs were gasping for breath and still I couldn’t stop. At the time I couldn’t think straight and even when I could, I couldn’t get my head around it. Why would they do that? I’m only sixteen. My body hasn’t got enough testosterone to make me fully a man. One ball, that’s like half a eunuch / half a gelding – good for nothing. What if my voice doesn’t finish breaking properly? Will I LOOK lopsided? I’ve only just got most of my body hair, will that go too? Of course, I don’t want kids now, but I might, later. I haven’t even slept with my girlfriend – will I ever get to do that? Oh, Tasha! I’ve read in books sometimes that “he cried like a little girl” but I didn’t. I bawled and screamed and cried and sniffled just like a guy whose life has been cut off, just like his left nut, before he’s had a chance to do all that bloke stuff. I must have passed out again then, what was I gonna I tell Tash?

The doctor and Mum explained it to me more once I was fully awake, but it felt like the worst nightmare ever. I was trapped in it and couldn’t get out. Instead of a cut in my sack, I had stitches and pain just above where my pubes had been. That’s a story in itself, the shaving there. So, pain and stitches on what they called the ‘bikini line’ – yeah right, bikini line! But I’m getting a bit off track. It turns out that when I was fully under, the doctor had another grope around and didn’t like the feel of my left ball. Great. So, for some reason I still don’t fully get, they cut me to the left of my dick and pulled the whole ball up through there. When he saw it, the doc went straight out to Mum in the waiting room,

“Ms Brown, I think its cancer.”

I reckon he probably told her more than that. All the technical stuff that she has always known more about than me; the fact that the cyst had overtaken the whole epididymis on my left nut and that the reason it stayed enlarged was that as the swelling from the knock to the groin was going down, cancer was coming in and taking its place. Mum reckons that there had always been the concern that my cyst might go cancerous, but we hadn’t talked about it – Mum’s a ‘don’t borrow trouble’ sort of person.

Right now though, she wasn’t borrowing trouble, it was standing in front of her and Gary in surgical scrubs offering to give her the lab results just as soon as he’d finished cutting my nut off, stuffing what was left of me back in, stitching me up and dissecting the traitorous, disloyal, backstabbing thing. I don’t blame my mum, I wouldn’t have wanted to hang on to a cancerous nut, but shit it scared me when I first felt it gone. What is the world coming to when you can’t trust your own gonads?

Later, after my chemo, I was allowed to wear a beanie to school. A teacher at the Junior School called me on it when we were over there for the some assembly or service. I can’t remember exactly what she said, but it definitely had the words “disrespectful” and “inappropriate” thrown in for good measure. I could have done it any number of ways, but I thought, damn it, she’s being so rude to me, getting up in my face. So I snapped,

“I’ve had cancer!”

I felt like adding, “Bitch” but managed to stop myself. I made her feel like shit though, which felt pretty good actually. She knew who I was, I suppose stories like mine are too good to stay secret, not that it was ever supposed to be a secret.

“Oh, you’re Sam,” and she walked off, no sorry or anything. Bitch.

After my surgery and chemo, I started riding my bike again – had mates ask about that – the pressure on my groin was obviously not a problem when I stopped catching the bus and started riding to school. Mates are funny like that; maybe it’s a guy thing. We are always, according to my sister, giving each other stick about being a man, or not. She’s probably right though, way back in Primary school I remember playing footy with my mates and it was a badge of honour to be able to walk after a good hit to the groin. So most of them knew a bit about what was going on, but not much, and while I reckon they cared, what could they do? I had a third nut, and then that I’d lost my nut in surgery. Not much chat, guys don’t do that,

“You alright?”

“Yep.”

And that’s it. Miss reckons that girls would have laughed and cried about it together and talked about every little feeling. I don’t get it.

Nuts, a ball and other four-letter words. A young man’s journey with testicular cancer. Part 2

{This is Part 2 in a series. Read Part 1 here.}

So, we’re at the doctors, like I said. I’m trying to concentrate on the really uninteresting ceiling while he feels around. It’s slow going, this examination, cause even though I’m trying to relax and he’s treating me casually, there are certain physical reactions that just happen, regardless of how interesting the ceiling is. He keeps on reminding me to relax which is frustrating me even more. Doesn’t he think I would if I could? So my sack keeps tightening and shrinking up, which is bloody hopeless for the doc. Finally, either from boredom – white ceilings aren’t really much of a distraction, or from sheer dumb luck, my body does what it’s supposed to and the doc gets a chance to check out the lump I had felt not long after Craig kneed me during the game. I’m a little bit sore and that’s a bit scary, especially when the doc covers me up and tells me to get dressed and sit back at his desk with Mum.

While I’m dressing, he and Mum are talking pretty quietly on the other side of the curtain. They’re not trying to keep secrets from me, I don’t think, but I can’t hear them properly and I’m still zipping my jeans up as I walk back to the chair by Mum. I want to say something casual and funny to show that I can take it, whatever it is,

“So, no grandkids today, hey Mum?”

But I can’t and the doctor looks me over before telling me what he’s obviously already told Mum,

“Sam, I felt the same swelling that you did and I’m a bit concerned about it. Considering your previous history, I’d like to get a closer look. I’d like you to have another ultrasound and we can see what it is we’re dealing with exactly.”

I don’t really get it, but the doctor must see that in my face and continues with more explanation. He thinks that the cyst I’ve got, a damaged bit on my ball, like a blister, is changing and not in a good way. The ultrasound is going to give a clearer picture of it, an ultrasound being a bit like an x-ray for bits of the body that aren’t bones. The short of it though is that it means another trip to another doctor; another indecent exposure and another experience of gel and a kind of microphone looking thing skidding about around my scrotum. Forgive me if I’m not thrilled by the idea!

“Shit! No.”

“Sam,” Mum starts to warn me of my language, but then must realise how I feel and breathes out deeply, “Well, yes, fair enough.”

Referrals are made and Mum and I are on our way home. I can tell she’s freaking out a bit, and I am not really sure what I am feeling. Are there emotion rules on this?

Dad and I get on ok. I’ve been visiting him every second weekend for about 8 years. Best of both worlds, Mum used to say; that I could be with her and my brother and sister during the weeks and then to Dad’s every other weekend. I used to spend a bit of each weekend riding down to this little fishing spot with my step brother. We’d sit there for hours; not always catching much, but it was good to hang out. Jake is about my age, a year younger, another thing Mum said was good about going to Dad’s, and we hung out together, fishing and biking and stuff. I didn’t tell him much about the whole check up thing. If I did have to do any explaining, if anyone asked, I’d just say I had a third nut. That was as easy as it got and it was pretty much what I thought anyway. Going into detail about epididymal cysts and ultrasounds just wasn’t a topic of conversation. Still isn’t. It’s not the sort of thing you generally share with anyone, and most of the time it was just a hassle, part of the stuff I did at Mum’s house.

Mum said that she would keep the school in the loop and I wouldn’t have to say anything. She was trying to save me the embarrassment of talking about it, but you know what? After you go through what I have in the past nine months, you get pretty casual about it. What might have been embarrassing before is now just routine. Words, technical or slang or swearing, are just words and whether or not I tell a teacher that my nut had to be removed or agree with a counsellor that I do freak out about sex and getting it up makes no difference really. Not compared to what I’ve been through.

The doctors ultrasound it again and decide that the cyst has changed some and they need to go in and have a look. My understanding of the op was that once I was under the general anaesthetic, the surgeon would open me up, like cut my sack, and take out the original cyst and kind of scrape the left testicle to get the still swollen, enlarged bits off it. So that’s what I expected to have happened when I woke up; scar and stitches in my scrotum and to feel pretty sore around the balls, as you would. When I woke up and came to, that’s not what I felt like. I put my hand down to check it out, to see if I could feel the incision, but I felt nothing. Honestly, nothing. No ball on the left side at all. What the hell? Then I panicked. What was going on?

Nuts, a ball and other 4-letter words! A young man’s story of testicular cancer. Part 1.

A number of years ago, I wrote a short memoir in first person perspective for a young man who I knew through a school I previously taught at. I had recently broken both my ankles whilst on holidays in Indonesia (perhaps more about that in another post) and needed to do something that helped me look outside myself and my situation. Here’s the first installment:

Hey,
Found you on face book and thought I’d say hello and ask you a couple of things that maybe would be harder to ask in person. I’m doing a lot of writing at the moment, since walking is out of the question, and I wondered if I could ask something. I know you’ve been ill this year (that’s about all I know about it) and I wondered if you might consider sharing your story with me. I would be honoured to write it, if you feel like sharing. Maybe it’s something you want to do yourself, so that’s ok too. I don’t know you real well, so if this isn’t ok, let me know. Just thought I could ask and you could honestly tell me what you think.
Thanks for even thinking about it,
Mrs Ross

It’s one thing being monitored for a condition to do with your nuts when you’re 12. That’s one thing, that’s a Mum thing, that’s a thing we don’t talk about. Well I don’t! It’s quite another to have to say to your mum, when you are 16, that not only have you been hit there, hard, during a footy game, but you think there is something wrong. How do you say that?

“Ah, Mum, my balls are hurt. Kinda swollen or something.”

And then the kicker,

“Can you have a look?”

Not easy to ask and harder to let her do it. You can probably imagine how it went from there. Both of us a bit embarrassed, mostly me, but this is mum after all. She’s pretty cool, but this isn’t good. Did I mention we were in the car on the way to footy training when I told her? Now that would’ve been hilarious if she’d had an accident then. Just to have to tell the police what she’d been doing and why she had her hand off the wheel. Anyway, we got through it and she agreed with me that there was something else going on. So then we take it (them? ha ha) to the professionals.

This isn’t that unusual for me. Apparently I have this hormone that is supposed to stop doing its stuff when you’re about 12 and mine didn’t. It’s caused docs some concern and I’ve had to be checked out every 6 months or so, with ultrasounds since I was 14. The first thing I thought when we got referred for an ultrasound was; pregnant women have ultrasounds, don’t they? And I’m pretty damn sure that whatever these odd hormones have done to me, I’m not pregnant!

They monitored me for changes in hormones and a benign epididymal cyst that I figured was like having a smaller third testicle and that’s what I told anyone who ever questioned me. So, having to strip in the doctor’s surgery is not new to me. About now, you’re probably thinking one of a couple of things – I’ve heard most of it before:

a) Shit! I’d hate to do that, imagine if the doctor touched you and….well, you know…?

b) Oh, that poor boy. That would be very traumatic through his puberty; I wonder how it is for his self esteem?

c) No way! Not now, not ever – keep it to yourself, man!

Or some combination of the above. So, let’s leave me there for the moment. In front of doctor, flat on my back, knees up, letting the guy with the gloves feel around my balls…

As I said, I’ve been checked out more than most guys my age, but apart from that, I’m pretty average I reckon. Got an older brother, younger sister and we get on ok I guess. My mum and dad split when I was 8 and I’ve always been pretty close to my mum. Pretty into football, been playing for 4 years and this year I’ve made the A grade. I’m supposed to make this as honest as possible, so I’ll tell you that I was pretty buff then. Training 3 nights a week and games on the weekend will do that for you. So I was feeling alright. And, before you ask, yes, I’ve got a girlfriend. She’s hot. I’m playing A grade and going out with Tash for about 6 months. School is ok. Life is pretty good. Then some *#@!wit gets his shin up hard in my groin in the second match of the season. I go down, winded, and that, I reckon, is where it all really starts.

I don’t know yet where it ends, but it’s been a long journey and it’s only been nine months since it started. There have been good days and bad, ups and downs I guess you could say. Each time I go down it feels like I can’t go any lower, but rock bottom is a LONG way down. I wonder whether it’s harder to fall when you’ve been so high before that. As I said, I’ve led a reasonably average life, but I’ve had it better than some.

{More to come next week.}

Updated: Part 2 is available here.

Awkward Eating

I’m currently at the other end of the state to where I usually am, visiting my sister and newest niece.


My own children would have liked to come with me, especially the youngest. He adores babies; we (he) often stop prams simply by standing in front of them to talk to ANYBODY’S baby. So to have one of our own is a big deal…and she’s gorgeous!

Tuesday morning on the way to school and daycare, I reminded him that I was going on the plane that evening.

“Can I come, please?”

“Not this time, I’m sorry. It’s pretty expensive to go on the plane and we don’t have that much money. Everyone would have liked to come.”

🤔 “Do you have money for YOU to go on the plane?”

“Well, my ticket has been paid and so jowett I have no money. Luckily though, when I get there, Grandma and Aunty will feed me.”

🤔🤔😕 “Do you mean like Aunty feeds the baby?”

😲😲😂😂

“No. Maybe a sandwich.”

“I didn’t think it was right but I had to see if it was like that.”

Kids!

🖒🐛

An amazing surprise!

My Grandpa and his three brothers all served in World War II in various capacities with the Australian Defence Force. My Grandpa was a navigator in a bomber for some time. My Great Uncle Bob was captured early in the war by Japanese soldiers, transported to Burma and forced to work on the Thai-Burma railway. (For another excellent story of that time, watch Colin Firth in ‘Railway Man’)

Not long after Bob was captured, his family received an official letter telling them he had been captured. For the next 3 1/2 years, they heard nothing and did not know if he was alive or dead.

My Great Aunty Barb and Great Grandma were at the Rialto in Box Hill in 1945, where they both saw this newsreel video. (No sound)

My Uncle Bob appears behind Lord Mountbatten at 2mins 20secs!

What an amazing shock that must have been for Aunty and Grandma. I wonder whether they stayed to watch any more when they saw him laughing and looking so happy? I don’t think I could have.

I’m so thankful that after hearing this story recently from Aunty Barb, my first-cousin-once-removed, Ray, went searching for the clip and found it from British Pathè. He now has a copy on DVD.

I’m also thankful to never have been in any similar situation. God willing we won’t be again.

🐛

I’m a person who…

Warning! Truth ahead!

I’m a person who:

*  has a very full life
*  loves doing lots with friends
*  is one of the worst housekeepers I know
*  is a master of the scurryfunge
* has lots of ‘doing’ energy outside of home, but not often ANY at home
*  has discovered she loves watching ‘gross’ medical and dermatological videos on YouTube
*  is learning much more about herself as she heads towards middle age
*  is generally accepting most of it
*  should not be allowed near stationery shops or ebay with $
*  used to buy to feel better
*  is a better talker than listener, but I’m learning
*  loves romance novels
*  doesn’t make the bed
*  is a mass of contradictions
*  knows productinating is a skill
*  has decided to accept depression, but not be a victim to it
*  excels at word games
*  has one of the best relationships with her mum that she knows
*  hasn’t properly cooked a meal at home for years
*  wants my kids to be happy in what they’re doing
*  is scared of missions trips, but going anyway
*  loves recognition for achievements
*  loves all children – mine or not
*  cries
*  loves organising 1 off projects or systems
*  suffers no embarrassment
*  is an advice giver
*  wears long pants because she IS too lazy to shave her legs
*  often realises later that I’m friends with someone who perhaps didn’t seem to like me to begin with. I find it a challenge I think
*  says what I mean
*  will take criticism, but doesn’t always like it
*  is generous
*  dislikes shopping of any kind, immensely
*  gets hurt if people think I’ve done the wrong thing and I haven’t
*  takes responsibility
*  asks lots of questions
*  will avoid blood tests if possible
*  would love to foster care but is afraid of losing or failing those children
*  doesn’t like pork
*  has phases and fads of things (by choice) and people (not by choice)
*  would love you to comment about yourself, or me.

☺🐛

Veritas, Eski

Anxiety and depression – My son’s story

Some of you know and have supported Logan and I recently so I’m sharing this with you in the hopes that someone else will be helped.

Depression doesn’t always make sense and many people don’t understand it. I’m sharing because of that too. Thank you for your support whether you’ve understood or not. I’m happy to chat anytime.

Please share with anyone you think will benefit from knowing.

I’ve copied and pasted an email I wrote to some people who knew more of this earlier, in the middle of 2014, so it may not all be relevant to you, but the info and sentiments are.

***********************************************************************************

Because we’ve spoken about this before and you are aware of what’s been happening for Logan, I want to keep you updated on Logan’s situation. I’d appreciate it if you could continue to keep your eye on him, like you’ve already been doing, and let us know if you see any changes.

I took Logan to a psychiatrist on Wednesday and she agreed with my ‘mum diagnosis’ of chemical depression within 10 minutes of us all talking. After a thorough discussion, she’s prescribed him a 12 month course of daily Zoloft, which she will monitor closely with us. She believes that we will see, and Logan will experience, positive change within 3 weeks. All going as expected, he should be functioning normally within three months and in six be back to where he ‘should’ be. This is wonderful, prayed for news, which is exactly the outcome I had hoped for from yesterday’s appointment. Thank you for praying with me.

As with any medication, there MAY be some side effects and although these are mostly minor, we want to be onto them. Especially these next two to three weeks, Logan might be more tired (not sure that’s possible); have slight headaches; have more ‘body irritability’ like jumpy legs, unable to sit still and tightness or clenching of jaw or grinding teeth. None of these presents a problem, it’s just a settling in period. As I said, she’ll be monitoring him every few weeks in person to make sure that’s all. After the initial few weeks, most people have only positive change and because we often don’t see small changes from so close, you may see these more than Logan does at first. I’ll be noticing every tiny thing, I’m sure, which will be a nice change to noticing the decline, but I’d love your feedback too. Logan knows that you are aware of the continuing story and is, even now, willing to talk to you about it all. He has briefly mentioned his anxiety to his friends, but has trouble knowing what to say. As you can understand, some people have negative perceptions in relation to psych-anything, so he’s nervous about judgmental reactions.

This next is probably the most important part of my explanation today and what I hope will help others. It’s only due to my first hand knowledge of chemical depression that I’ve seen beyond what often presents as grumpy, ’emo’ teenager,Neanderthal behaviour and really known he wasn’t ok. It took a close friend’s amazing transformation recently from severe, self harming depression to normal, functional, and finally happy person, for me to seek a psychiatric referral. The psychiatrist had worked with my friend’s medication over months to achieve this and it’s been a miracle. It’s the best discovery I’ve made. I’ve been diagnosed, and improperly treated for, various types of depression for the past twenty years. I’ve been to multiple GPs and referred to counsellors and psychologists and have attended each session feeling like a fraud and a ‘mental case.’ I rarely had anything to discuss and my catch cry has been, “There’s nothing wrong with me; why is there so much wrong with me?” Why did I still feel so hopeless, helpless and lacking in any energy or motivation?

I have tried a number of anti-depressants with varying degrees of un-success, prescribed by GPs who have tried. When one suggested post natal depression when Toby was 4 years old, I wondered if I really was in the ‘too hard’ basket. My latest GP, just prior to finding out about Theo, was the first and only person to use the words, ‘chemical depression’ and she told me it wasn’t psychological, but my body’s inability to manufacture Seratonin, among other things. She said I’d likely have to be on anti-depressant medication for life and likened it to some diabetics having to inject insulin. I felt such relief at that, finally having an answer that wasn’t a mental issue. She’s been amazing, guiding and supporting me through what’s been a rough few years with pregnancy hormones and true postnatal symptoms. I’ve taken my medication as prescribed and have been ok; but only ok. Theo’s nearly two and I’m still only ok. I am so used to being flat that I’ve only really recently realise that I’m probably operating at 75% of what’s normal for me. My head’s above water, but it’s easy to go under. With the change I saw in my friend, I’ve self-referred to this same psychiatrist Logan saw. I’ll see her next week but through the tiny bit of my information I gave her today as background for Logan, she’s already determined my medication is wrong for what I have and that I have been improperly diagnosed and treated for 20 years. She has said that most people can be treated for chemical depression like this in a relatively short, finite period, easily with the right prescription; which is a psychiatrist’s specialist area. I’ve never felt such relief and frustration and anger at the same time!

Although I knew psychiatrists could prescribe medication, I had the mistaken, but disturbingly common, view that psychiatrists were the top of the mental health hierarchy: the more crazy you were, the further up you went. The thing that’s perpetuated this myth and given me what I feel are wasted decades is that no one, not GPs, counsellors or psychologist – NO ONE has ever suggested I seek a psychiatrist’s help – and they SHOULD HAVE. If they had, I’d have done so. If they’d suggested amputation, I would have gone there too in an attempt to feel ‘normal.’ I tell you this because I know I’m not the only one in my situation and although I’m finally going to get this all sorted starting next week, I’m angry at such wasted decades. The only thing I can see that makes it ok is that God has a plan for this knowledge and experience. Because of it, I’ve been able to get help for Logan early and not shrugged it off as grumpy teen. Because of this, I may (and hope to) direct others to seek the right help. And you’re some of the first I’ve told. Maybe you can pass this on to help someone else.

I so appreciate that I’ve been able to honestly share this and my experiences with you all individually over the past few years. It seems trite, but isn’t, to say thank you so much for your support and observation and care of both me and Logan. It was so good to know others saw what I did in him and cared enough to tell me. Thank you for continuing to pray for us. Please ask about and share my journey with anyone who needs it and WATCH THIS SPACE! for new and improved Ross’. Bit scary, hey?

Veritas, Eski