I was diagnosed with testicular cancer in September 2005, after discovering a small lump in one of my testicles. All seemed well after the affected testicle was surgically removed. However, a follow up blood test, a month later, revealed that the cancer had spread. CT scans showed tumours in my abdomen and one attached to my right lung. I started chemotherapy less than 72 hours later.
I underwent BEP chemotherapy, a relatively new combination of three different chemotherapy drugs. Whilst it is a highly successful form of treatment that has drastically improved survival rates, it is also a very aggressive and debilitating treatment. Over four months of chemotherapy, I lost nearly 3 stone [20kg] in weight, lost all my hair, and energy.
The walk back
I got a tentative all clear two days after my 28th birthday. To me, it signalled a new start and I couldn’t wait to get on with life again. The lack of energy held me back, though, and I had lost a great deal of muscle tissue. This was hard for me to take; I’d always been very active: regularly visiting the gym, swimming, playing football, tennis, and squash. Doctors told me that it would be months before I could get back to my old activity levels. I just didn’t want to accept this. I wanted to be normal again—now, not in six months.
So, I started by simply walking around Edinburgh and pretending to be a tourist again. Each day I would get home four or five hours later feeling like I had run a marathon, with every muscle in my body protesting the effort. I kept at it, though, and made real progress. Less than six weeks after finishing chemo, I half-ran, half-crawled up Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh— a fantastic mini-mountain that is a landmark on the edge of the city. It meant I could get back to normal and achieve things again. I spent the next couple of days in bed recovering, but to me, it was worth it. Soon after that, I was back in the gym. I began to take training and nutrition seriously. In the last three years, I have managed to build myself back up to 14.5 stone [92 kg] through weight training, and surpassed the levels I had reached before my illness.
When I was undergoing chemotherapy, my appetite took a real nose-dive. I used to drive my girlfriend mad. Some days I couldn’t bear the taste of a particular food, and the next day I would crave it. Sometimes, cooking smells from the kitchen would make me nauseous and I’d have to leave the house and stand outside. Interestingly my appetite for Wine Gums [chewy, firm sweets popular in Ireland and UK] and ready-salted Hula-Hoops [potato-based snack, in the shape of short, hollow cylinders, available in the UK] remained constant throughout the ordeal. Some foods though still trigger a powerful nausea in me. I’m sure it is simply a memory quirk, but it can be frustrating, especially when I’m out with people who are unaware about my past illness.
My diet had never been great before I fell ill. It wasn’t awful either, but I was a real vegetable-phobe, and to some extent, I still am. Nowadays, though, I make myself eat more natural foods. I cook everything from scratch, and don’t buy processed foods at all. I try to eat things that I know are good for me, even if I don’t like them. I’ve discovered that a good blender and a slow-cooker help make foods I don’t like, bearable.
The support of others
When you are suffering from a physical setback as I did, emotional support from others is important. Still, there are things only you can do for yourself. You can’t rely on others to make you feel like yourself again; you have to achieve it yourself. I was lucky enough to have a supportive and understanding girlfriend, family and friends who weren’t afraid to talk to me about my experience. Still, you can’t help but feel a little lonely because at the end of the day, you are the one going through it. But a support network acts as a comforting safety net.
A new beginning
I took my driving test that March, something I had always put off. I went back to work, and started my own internet retail business. Somehow, having been so ill gave me a kickstart to do some things I should have done years before. I now run a successful small retail business, and have recently qualified as a personal trainer. I’ve also started a second company [www.realworldfitness.co.uk] to take this real passion of health and fitness forward. I believe, if I can get fit and strong again after cancer and chemo, anyone can—and I want to help other people improve themselves, whether they’ve battled illness or not. I believe that what holds most people back is their mental attitude and determination, or lack of it. You can achieve whatever you want, you just have to work hard at it.
I have no lasting effects from my illness other than a mild tinnitus caused by damage done to the nerves by chemotherapy. At the back-of-my-mind, there is a constant anxiety about the blood test results that I now have every six months. Having been clear for three years, my prognosis is good. And I will continue to be monitored for another seven years.
While the worst part is hopefully over, it’s never far away from my thoughts. I still count myself lucky that, on most days the only reminders of cancer is a ringing in my ears and occasional check-ups.