Cancer has always played a big part in my life. I lost both my parents to cancer when I was 19. They died 5 weeks apart. Since that age I've learnt a lot about cancer, and I have learnt about the signs and symptoms of most types of cancer. Fast forward to when I was 27 years of age. I was married to Sarah, had 2 lovely kids, Leah and Charlie and I had a good job in a bank. It was 2001.
I was in the bath one night and doing what most men do. Having a rummage down below. Something didn't feel right. I felt a lump right in the middle of my right testicle. To be honest, my first thoughts were "nah nothing to worry about. Probably a cyst or I've got a knock from playing lots of cricket and football". I then said to myself in a very macho and manly way "nah, there can't be anything wrong with my crown jewels. Blimey, they've fathered 2 kids, so all the bits are in fine working order".
However, as I said, I knew that a lump was a possible sign of testicular cancer, so I decided to make an appointment to see my doctor.
Was I embarrassed about dropping my trousers and pants and having the fear of my doctor burst out laughing? Nah course not. He’s seen all shapes and sizes over the years and is the utmost professional. Ok, so the wife laughs now and again but I knew my doctor wouldn’t.
Guess what, he didn’t laugh. He was the consummate professional and referred me to urology for a second opinion.
Then it was a whirlwind. My urologist had a feel. Said straight away he thinks it’s a tumour. Then I had blood tests and an ultrasound, and these confirmed that it’s likely to be a tumour and that I’d be booked in next week to have surgery to have my right testicle removed.
Geez, all sorts of things flew around my mind. Was I going to die like my Mum and Dad? Who would wake up to Sarah each morning? Not me. Who would take Charlie to his first football match? Not me. Who would take Leah to her first prom? Not me.
It was these terrifying thoughts that made me then say, “right let’s crack on, let’s deal with it and let’s kick cancer in the bollocks.”
Surgery was done, I was now officially a one baller. I didn’t opt for the fake testicle. No point. I was married, not playing the field and to be fair, the wife never really touched them since we got married so no point really!
My recovery was fine. Back home from hospital after a few days, plenty of rest and taking it easy.
A few weeks later I had the all-important meeting with my urologist to see if the tumour was actually cancerous.
Sarah came with me, but I asked her to wait outside. I knew what was coming and I didn’t want her to hear the news. I walked in and my urologist greeted me, and I sat down. He asked all the normal stuff like how are you doing? Then he pushed the box of tissues closer to me as he said “as I suspected Darren, it is testicular cancer”
Him pushing the tissues closer to me confirmed what he was going to say. I knew it was coming.
My reaction was “right, let’s sort this bugger out then. What’s the next steps?”
Thankfully he explained it hadn’t spread and that I needed some chemo but only a one-off shot of it.
Phew. Thank goodness. I had seen what chemo had done to my parents and it’s not nice at all.
All in all, I was very lucky. I knew the signs and symptoms and I wasn’t embarrassed to get to the doctors. Knowing this information and not being embarrassed saved my life. If I had ignored the lump and I didn’t have the courage to drop my trousers, I would not be here today.
I decided early on in my recovery that I wanted to raise awareness of testicular cancer.
Since 2001 I have done hundreds of awareness talks, publicity stunts and events.
I tend to use humour when raising awareness as I found that using humour during my early days of my diagnosis was a god send. People were treading on eggshells when I told them the news until one day, one of my mates cracked a joke about me having one ball and well, the rest is history. It put us at ease and from that day I decided to use humour. Break the ice, make people smile and then deliver the serious message about testicular cancer. I wanted to break the stigma that testicular cancer is an embarrassing illness. It’s not.
In 2008 my best mate Richard and I did a tour around England visiting place names that have reference to the male genitalia. So places like Cockermouth, Bell End, Balls Cross, Cockerton and many more. We took 2 large pink testicles with us and had our photos done with the big balls at every town or village sign.
I also wrote a book about my experience called One Lump or Two. You can download this as an e-book on Amazon. Nice plug eh!
We also set the original Guinness World Record for the biggest gathering of men checking their testicles at the same time in a public place.
I’ve trekked up Snowdon 10 times with the big pink fluffy testicle strapped to my back!
I’ve sat in a bath of nuts on Trafalgar Square to tell everyone the best place to check your nuts is in the bath!
And I’ve done hundreds of educational and awareness talks to schools, colleges, uni’s, clubs and workplaces.
Oh and a few years after my diagnosis, Sarah and I had another kid. Ruby. Just goes to prove the old one ball still works!
I always tell people that its vitally important that men check their testicles each month and know what to look out for. And not to be embarrassed about seeing your doctor.
I knew the signs.
I wasn’t embarrassed.
I’m still here loving life.
I show people a family photo of us all in Turkey that was taken a couple of years ago. I say to everyone that if I didn’t know the signs and symptoms and if I didn’t go to the doctors, I wouldn’t be in that photo. Nor would Ruby. Being aware and being sensible not only impacts on your own life, it also affects so many other people too.
If I wasn’t here, I would never have done all those publicity stunts, events and talks. I would never have met so many wonderful and inspirational people since my diagnosis. People who are lifelong friends.
There is a much bigger picture to look at when you survive cancer. Just think how many people you impact on by being aware, getting checked out early and living life to the max. Early diagnosis is key here people.
Sadly, men do die of testicular cancer and that really saddens me. I’m still able to create many memories with my family, friends and colleagues. Some men don’t get that chance. Why? Because they didn’t know the signs and symptoms or ignored something that didn’t feel right due to being embarrassed.
We all know our own bodies best. If you feel something isn’t right, get it checked out. Better to be safe than sorry.
I’m very proud to have worked for Cancer Research UK for 11 years as this gave me a huge platform to share my story to help others and now, I’m even more proud to work for The Robin Cancer Trust as their Community Engagement Manager.
The RCT are doing big things and are reaching thousands and thousands of people with our digital campaigns and life saving educational talks. I love being a part of the team.
Did I say I work for them? Well, I can’t call it work. To me it’s not a job. It’s my passion. My vocation in life. I’m spreading the awareness message every single day and that makes me happy.
Yep I love talking bollocks.
Darren One Ball Couchman, testicular cancer survivor since 2001.