My Cancer Journey
Jack Broadley, Testicular Cancer Survivor.
At the age of 21, feeling untouchable and on top of the world, I had no idea what I was meant to be feeling for and how often I needed to check my balls. I knew something wasn’t quite right when I was feeling a dull ache in my testicles and had a considerable size lump on my right testicle.
I attended a doctor's appointment for a suspected viral infection, the doctor asked if there was anything else I would like to discuss before the appointment was finished, it was at that point I let the professional take over and check for me to be sure and put my mind at rest.
The doctor was concerned with what she had found and acted fast, within a matter of days, I was sent for blood tests and an ultrasound scan - it happened so fast before I knew it the oncologist said those infamous words "We're sorry but you have cancer". Alone in the room and aged 21 is tough to take in.
Being told by another human being you have a life threatening illness at such a young age is heartbreaking to say the least, I only associated cancer with older people as I'd never encountered a young person with cancer.
After going for further tests, a CT scan revealed the cancer had spread, I was diagnosed with stage two testicular cancer that spread to nearby lymph nodes in my abdominal area. The next course of treatment was surgery followed by intense chemotherapy.
A common long term side effect of chemotherapy is no longer being able to produce sperm, at that time in my life I had no plans on having children but if I did in the future I would need to bank some sperm before starting the treatment. The sperm sample wasn't the best, I had a very low sperm count and they weren't the healthiest of swimmers, but at the time I was more focused on what was to come in the next few months and whether I'd survive or not.
I started chemotherapy, it was a case of knowing when you needed to be in hospital and planning aftercare for when I was able to go home, over the course of 9 weeks, I spent 3 of them in The Christie (Manchester) and returned every Friday for a boost of chemotherapy.
At first I thought it wasn’t so bad, my hair began to grow back after I’d shaved it in preparation, however shortly after the 2nd round of treatment I became very weak and started to experience the full swing of side effects.
It took around 10-12 weeks to complete the treatment, upon finishing treatment, I attended a post-chemotherapy appointment with my oncologist, it was GOOD NEWS, the treatment had been successful in removing the cancer cells from my body, I was now declared cancer-free, then came the “however”, the oncologist continued to share that the CT scan showed the lymph nodes were still enlarged and that I may need a further operation but wouldn’t know for certain until a professor had looked into the scans and results of the treatment.
A month later I was called to an appointment with one of the country's best surgeons in this area. He informed me they would like to perform a procedure called RPLND, to remove all abdominal lymph nodes.
I was asked if I'd like to have another go at banking some sperm before the operation, part of the procedure will result in me losing the ability to ejaculate otherwise known as Retrograde Ejaculation. The results came back and there was a feeling of emptiness and heart break again... I was 'firing blanks' so not only did I have the mental challenge of the operation coming up, I also had to accept that part of my masculinity has been taken away from me and I will never be able to naturally conceive a child.
A few months went by and the operation date was fast approaching, I attended the pre-op assessment, that went smoothly. I had this gut feeling and my intriguing nature prompted me to request a final CT scan before under-going the knife to remove the 'enlarged lymph nodes' after a nerve racking couple of weeks, the results could only be described as a miracle. I no longer needed the operation, this is one of the happiest memories in my life.
All of the mental and physical exhaustion I'd been through leading up to this life changing operation hasn't sat well with me for a long time, it took me well over 3 years to work through the long term effects of this.
After I finished treatment a question that kept running around in my mind was - how many other young men like myself are out there worried, not wanting to go to the doctors and unsure what they're checking for/how often do they need to check and what to do if they find something.
I found myself old enough to understand what was happening, but too young to handle the physically and mentally challenging experience, it wasn't until three months after I'd finished the chemotherapy that I realised there was more to life than working a nine to five job and expecting everything on a plate due to the ordeal I'd just experienced.
With the support from friends, family and other charities I decided to set up Baggy Trousers UK, a testicular cancer charity based in the North West, with the vision and aim to raise awareness of a condition that almost took my life and provide support to those going through a similar experience.
"And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." - Paulo Coelho.