Friday, April 02, 2021

Three: Ninety-Something Percent Certain

What the guy in the ultrasound department gave me on Wednesday 16 September, 2020

Welcome to Part Three!

Somewhat delayed.

Writing this more than six months cancer-free (yay!) is a sobering experience (boo!)

It's also a deeper reminder of:
1) How grateful I am for all the people in my life - from Davina, to my family, through to specific colleagues, and the pupils I teach, and 
2) All those habits I practise: meditation, planning my time, eating well, execising, playing guitar, journaling...etc. really do work.

Reminder:
_Men/ Young Men: please learn to check your testicles regularly - see here*
_Women: get the gentlemen in your life to check their testicles regularly

By the way you can re-read:
Part Two: Smooth Egg Intact
Part One: I'm Not In Any Pain

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3: Ninety-Something Percent Certain

Thursday 17 September, 2020, 10:45am, I arrived at the urology department of St George's Hospital. With my mask on. I'd got used to breathing through my nose in my mask. As an asthmatic, it wasn't always natural. Nothing like necessity to force change.

I gave my name to the receptionist - who knew my name as if she'd been expecting me. I wasn't sure if that was a good or bad thing.

I was about to become very familiar with that particular reception area.

Because I sat and waited.

And waited.**

Of course waiting for something like this tends to exacerbate one's nerves. I started to meditate. There was one other older guy in the reception area. The television was playing some greatest goals programme. It is a urology department - so why not? Watching old goals from world Cup competitions gone by was strangely compelling.

And I don't like football.

So I went back to meditating. My breathing even louder in my ears because of the mask I was wearing.

A doctor called my name and invited me into a very standard looking examination room. I had another testicular examination from a medical professional. My scrotum has never had two different sets of male hands examine it - apart from my own - in such a short space of time.

As before it was uncomfortable but not painful.

Having your scrotum and testicles checked is an odd sensation. Like most men, I'm used to adjusting myself as I sit down and the feel of them in the shower.

But it's odd when a medical professional is examining.

I found myself feeling glad for the morning's shower.(Doesn't everyone get concerned about their genital area smelling bad?)

I took my seat and the doctor took his.

He asked me to explain what had led up to this point and I explained:
_noticed swelling in July
_went to Doctor
_ultrasound yesterday

I also explained the full version of our fertility journey. Short version:
_x3 failed rounds of IVF
_my low and subsequently improved sperm quality (I was producing weirdly formed sperm [technical term - low morphology] and the DNA quality was also less that normal [technical term - DNA fragmentation] - no explanation for this situation by the way...but that's another related story)
_we were starting the surrogacy process

The next part of the conversation went something like this.

Me (sounding tentative): Do you know what it is?
Urologist: Yes. Given your symptoms, how you're presenting, it's most probably cancerous.

I felt my breathing slow, eyebrows raise, and eyes widen.

Me: So what are the percentage chances it's cancer then?
Urologist: Oh ninety-something percent certain.
Me: Ok.

I took a deep breath. In my head I couldn't quite believe what I was hearing.

He then told me:
Of the percentage of men who have fertility issues, there is a much higher incidence of testicular cancer

Oh for fuck's sake.

Naturally (perhaps) I started to wonder if there was any explanation for this.

Me: It can't get any worse. I mean well it could but really - it can't get any worse.

He then explained that I would need a CT scan to check the spread. Because the testicles are outside the body, the chances of any spread are much lower. Once they knew what stage it was, they would then operate to remove the testicle.

I listened. Nodded. And processed.

In the next two weeks.

Whoa - they weren't fucking about. That's when the seriousness of the situation hit me.

They wanted the CT scan tomorrow and then get me booked in for surgery in two weeks.

I wasn't going back to school any time soon then.

He said they would need to take some blood and that I needed to go and wait in reception.

I went and sat down. And breathed. I could see that I had a choice:
_listen, ask questions, take action based on the facts, or
_freak the fuck out: anger, rage, upset, sadness, despair

Again I went back to my meditation and breathing.

And waiting.

For another 40 minutes as it turned out.

In some ways that wait was useful. I was able to allow my thoughts to flow through my head and dissipate. Which they did. I didn't really think about telling other people. The meditation habit I had built up was very useful.

I was eventually seen by a nurse who sat me down and explained she was going to have to take a few vials.

I told her that I'd just been diagnosed with testicular cancer.

With a strong Irish accent she was sorry. She also seemed shocked.

She also said it's more common. Perhaps becoming more common and speculated that perhaps it's got something to do with carrying a mobile phone in the pocket.

As I pressed the cotton wool into my arm, I started to think about who needed to know, what I would say.

By the time I'd got to the car I knew the first call I had to make was to Davina.

I knew it was one step at a time. One foot in front of the other.

On a bright Thursday in 2020, in the middle of a global pandemic, everything had changed.
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*For all my frustration with Movember and their lack of action about men's fertility, they have great resources about testicular cancer
**Further on down the line, I asked specific people in my life to make me Spotify playlists. My sister put together an excellent one. It included the Fugazi song 'Waiting Room'. When I first heard it in the context of the playlist - I burst out laughing in the car.


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