READ MY STORY - CHRIS DUNKLEY
When and where did you first notice signs of your cancer? Was there something out of the ordinary that prompted you to check yourself/ see your GP?
I felt a small hard lump on my right testicle in bed, as most men do in private (some in public), I was casually rearranging. At first I wasn’t sure what it could be, obviously it flashed into my mind that it could be cancer related but you inevitably convince yourself that in all likelihood it’s a just another part of your inner workings. After a month of regular self examination I felt as though I had reasonable cause for concern and went to see my GP.
Did you check yourself regularly or were you aware of the signs and symptoms of male cancer before you were diagnosed?
I don’t think checking myself regularly is really the name for it, I would say that I regularly felt my testicles but never for a continued period or with any specific intent. Put simply I was never looking to find a cancerous tumor so I think I was a little lucky. I was mildly aware of the symptoms, my friend’s brother had testicular cancer about seven years before I was diagnosed and so in the back of my mind I knew it was a possibility.
How did you feel when you were first diagnosed? Did your feelings change during your treatment?
At the time I never realised the magnitude of the situation nor do I think it has hit me since. In my mind it was a hurdle that I had to cross and it would be achieved one way or the other. In retrospect, the exemplary care provided for me by the NHS went so fast that there was little time to think. I found the difficult thing telling people around me, the only people that I mentioned it to before my operation were my mum and girlfriend who were both so worried that I spent more time calming them than thinking about the ramifications for me!
Please give us a brief explanation of your treatment
After my visit to my GP, who agreed that the lump I had felt could be “sinister”, I was referred to Dr. Patel at Ashford hospital two days later. Dr. Patel explained everything about the next steps to me rationally, he answered all of the weird and wonderful questions that I had to ask and arranged for my surgery the next day. Upon entering the hospital for surgery I realized that I had forgotten to ask about prosthetics. I approached the idea with Dr. Patel and he agreed to rush me into a CT scan, to provide some evidence proving that the cancer had not spread and that I would not have to be operated on again, after the scan he agreed that we could go ahead with the prosthetic. I was then sat in my cubicle doing puzzle books waiting to be called for surgery, my surgeon Dr. Yella popped his head around the corner of my cubicle and asked if I would agree to be a case study for one of his student Doctors, I agreed and will never forget the misdiagnosis of the student doctor. He was too afraid to properly examine my testicles, which I feel aptly demonstrates the awkward barrier that can impede early diagnosis. After this I was anaesthetised, operated on and woke up back in my cubicle feeling very drowsy. The nurse informed me that I could leave the hospital as soon as I had successfully passed urine, so I staggered to the bathroom eventually completed the necessary. I had to wear a jock strap for a few days and was back to work within a week. Since then I have been under surveillance taking regular blood tests, CT scans and visiting my specialist.
Was there a particularly difficult or distressing part of your treatment or your cancer journey?
None, thanks to the support of my family and the NHS. I feel as though I was mature enough to deal with the difficulties I faced but know implicitly that if I had contracted cancer earlier (below the age of 22) I wouldn’t have had the same strength I found at 25, again I have to reiterate that I have been very lucky. I ran the London marathon in 2009 to raise money for Orchid and spent a good 10 mile section with a man whose brother had died from testicular cancer, I know this could easily have been my story.
What is the most important thing your family and friends did to support you?
I found it very hard to tell everybody and was afraid that I’d be playing on people’s sympathy, once I found the courage to tell other people what I had been through, all of those people demonstrated true kindness. After my operation some close friends of mine trekked from North London to my house in Surrey just so we could have a normal day and play some snooker, it was so heartwarming to know that even though I felt ok in myself, people who cared for me would make the effort to show this when they felt I needed their help. I can only reiterate that telling people really isn’t a shameful thing as long as you have the right intentions.
Do you believe the experience has changed you as a person? If so, in what way?
This is difficult question, it’s reaffirmed some of my self belief but I think what I’ve truly learnt is that with strength of mind and good support systems you can genuinely conquer anything, I will always work to retain both of these in case I find myself facing similar challenges in future.
What medical or emotional support would you like to be offered in the future to support you after your treatment ends?
I think I’ll just be happy for the saga to be over. You never realize how much post treatment surveillance you have to go through before you’re given the all clear. It takes years and always leaves the thought that it might still be hanging around in your body in the back of your mind. I understand that my story is different to many and seems very simplistic, I’ll reserve this question for someone who has had a more involved experience.
What would be your message to other men affected by male cancer? What would be your message to their partners?
Try not to be afraid, be positive in your attitude from the start, visit your GP as early as possible and make sure that you tell the people close to you, you won’t believe how well supported you can feel.
Partners should try to be as normal and supportive as possible, testicular cancer is beatable and you can help support the fight.