Saturday, August 28, 2021

Five-A: Complicating Factors "I could hear him talking to himself. Loudly."

I've never looked at spice pots...in the same way ever again

Welcome to Part Five-A! [updated for Movember!]

Just when I thought life couldn't get more interesting or absurd...this happened.

Reminder:

_Men/ Young Men: seriously - learn to check your testicles regularly please - see here*

_Women: get the gentlemen in your life to check their testicles regularly

Getting a testicular cancer diagnosis is one of my two reasons for doing Movember annually.

Here's the link to sponsor me - "your dough will save a bro"

(Re)Reading List:

Part Four: Control the Narrative/ It's a Great Feature

Part Three: Ninety-Something Percent Certain

Part Two: Smooth Egg Intact

Part One: I'm Not In Any Pain

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5a: Complicating Factors "I could hear him talking to himself. Loudly."

Once the surgery was scheduled, it wasn't a case of waiting around.

There was one complicating factor (amongst several really).

Namely - the fertility journey Davina and I are on.

Any man who's having cancer treatment is entitled to have a sample of sperm frozen. This is  because cancer treatment can affect fertility - leaving aside the fact I have testicular cancer, any possible treatments: chemotherapy, radiography, or surgery will affect fertility.

So, whilst getting my diagnosis, and getting scheduled for surgery, I had another conversation/ set of emails with another hospital where they store frozen sperm samples.

Thursday 24 September 2020, Hammersmith Hospital, 12:30 - an appointment for "Sperm Banking" (as it's called).

I found a small innocuous-looking waiting room with plain seats.

In a separate office with big windows that could see into the reception area, An imposing woman sat behind a desk. I walked through, sat down, and after checking my name, handed me a clipboard with at least ten pages of forms. She said that I'd need to fill them in carefully. I took a deep breath and let it all go so I could sit and concentrate. With my own Star Wars pen in hand, I resolved myself not to miss anything.

She went back to re-checking previous forms of men who were in the several smaller rooms down a small corridor off the reception area.

Ah I thought - that's where the sample production would happen.

I went back to the clipboard I was holding. This form was way more detailed than anything I'd encountered before. The circumstances had heightened emotions considerably.

To add to my growing nervousness, another guy walked into the reception area and sat down.

It was only then that I noticed what hung in the air. The Great Unsaid. We were there to produce a semen sample for freezing. Pretty much all due to some kind of cancer.

I handed my form back and then she checked it carefully. She then handed me a back a pot and explained that I needed to put my name, date of birth, and time of production on the label. I was allocated a room.

From my time as part of the Trying To Conceive (TTC) community, these were all things I expected.

The thing about those sample pots - I've never looked at spice pots of cumin or cinnamon sticks in the same way ever again.

What happened next was something I was not expecting.

This might sound like I'm making it up, but I'm not.

I'm really not.

This happened.

As I walked to my allocated room, I heard another man walk in, talking to himself and anyone around. He was loud, but just shy of obnoxious. Saying things like:
"well here we are then"
"I can't believe we're here eh?"

As I entered my sample production room and locked the door, I realised that the walls were pretty thin. I could hear what he was saying.
"not something I expected to be doing"
"she's making me do this"
"yeah well she's left me since ..."
"It's all a bit much to handle"

As I was getting myself ready, I thought "Please don't let him be in the room next to mine."

I heard the door to the room next door open and close.

Then something like:
"Well here I am" [nervous laugh]
"I can't fucking believe this"
"This should be easy"
"Well come on then"
"For fuck's sake" [more nervous laughing]
"Ok come on then"
etc. etc.

"I could hear him talking to himself loudly."

Going through fertility treatment has meant I'm no stranger to performing under pressure - three rounds of IVF, multiple sperm analyses at several locations across London - has done that to me.

I'm used to any combination of things like: faceless windowless rooms, furniture with plastic covering, a magazine rack of pornography, a small tv with a dvd player, the sense of the room being a broom cupboard, the feeling of being an after-thought in the fertility clinic, the Handing Back Of The Pot...and all the range of emotions that go with this.*

It's a whole process that cuts to the core of what it means to be a man, and perhaps what it means to be human.

It's also incomprehensible to those who haven't been in it.

But this time it was different.

Just take a moment and think about what's happening:
I'm in a faceless room...
...with my pants down...
...expected to masturbate into a small pot...
...to produce a sample of my semen for freezing...
...because I was diagnosed with testicular cancer a week ago...
...and I can hear a guy doing the same thing nearby...
...in another room...
...talking loudly to himself.

Nothing could be more off-putting to producing a sample.

And I now apologise for the image you might have in your head.

But really - this all happened.

I'd never felt more nervous and scared.

And somewhat amused at the sheer absurdity of it all.

You know that feeling when you feel your head throbbing and you can sense movement in your temples?
Or when you can hear your heartbeat in your ears and mouth - heightened anyway because you have a mask on?

That.

It took me much longer than I expected to produce my sample.

And I did have beads of sweat on my forehead.

I returned to the office and handed back my labelled (spice) pot. The woman gave it to a man who took it into the lab behind them - which I had no idea was there.

She explained that the sample would be kept frozen for five years and that I would get a copy of the forms in the post.

I asked if I could find out about the quality of the sperm and any possible effects on future fertility.

"No. It's not possible to do that."

"I see." I replied.

My thoughts were along the lines of:
...I've go no way of knowing if my sample is any good
...this makes no difference to whether I can become a dad or not...cancer or not...
...given the 'unexplained fertility' diagnosis I've had...the results of past analyses...the tests I've had...the lifestyle changes I've made...the health improvements I've built...

...this whole thing could be pointless.

As I walked back to the car where Davina was waiting, I noticed my hands were shaking.

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In writing this post, I got a message from my wonderful smart watch "abnormally high heart rate detected".

Every time I share the next part of my journey, it is like re-living it.

At the same time, it's also like acknowledging it so I can move forward...

...to the day of surgery.

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*Men's fertility treatment is a big conversation in the TTC community. In nearly a decade of being involved, things are changing slowly. Mostly because men are starting to talk. IMHO men having fertility treatment are at the leading edge of the question "What does it mean to be a man?" We're redefining and re-examining masculinity.

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