Get 'on the ball' - and check yourself for lumps and bumps
- Credit: Contributed
It is a disease that strikes young, fit, healthy men.
Testicular cancer is also a condition that can go undiagnosed as sufferers fail to recognise the signs and symptoms, or are too embarrassed to seek help.
But with early detection, diagnosis, surgery and therapy, the recovery rate is high.
In recent years, attitudes have changed as an increasing number of younger sufferers go public about their diagnosis to raise awareness of the need to recognise the symptoms and regularly check their testicles for any changes, swelling or lumps.
The most recent high-profile figure to be diagnosed - and speak out - is Norwich City goalkeeper Daniel Barden, 20, who joined Scottish Premiership club Livingston on a season long loan in the summer. He will now spend time away from the game as he continues with a closely monitored treatment programme.
Barden, who has received support from fellow professionals, said: “The initial diagnosis was a real shock for me, but the positive thing is that we’ve caught it early and the prognosis and next steps have all been positive. I’m confident that I’ll be able to beat it and that I’ll be back out there doing what I love soon.”
His decision to speak out has been praised by others who have also had testicular cancer, and recovered. And within the eastern region, the care offered at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH), and the role of Norwich-based charity and support group, Its On The Ball, (itsontheball.org) have also been praised.
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Two men who have recovered, and are keen to further raise awareness, are teacher Tom Chapman, 30, and caterer Wayne Harvey, 32.
Tom, who teaches maths at Framingham Earl School at Poringland, stressed the importance of young men promptly seeing their GP if they find anything unusual about their testicles.
“Men should also have a day a month when they check themselves” he said. “It is important to get to know yourself for what is normal for you. It is about noticing any changes in size, shape, firmness, or backache and if you do find any of those things, not being afraid to get checked out.”
Getting treatment quickly is crucial, added Tom, who noticed a swelling on a Sunday morning in April 2019 when he was 28. He went to a walk-in centre, where he was told he had a lump, and saw his GP on the Monday.
By Wednesday he had an ultrasound scan and was diagnosed, and two weeks later had surgery to have the testicle removed, followed by chemotherapy.
Following the school summer holidays, he resumed work in September 2019.
“I had some time off work,” recalled Tom. “Mainly for me it was tiredness and the other thing was infection because working in a school, my immune system went down to zero. It was a worrying time, but having beaten that, it has made me a very positive person.”
Married to Rose, the couple eventually hope to have children. His fertility has been checked and the NHS also offers childless couples in this position the opportunity to freeze sperm before undergoing chemotherapy.
He also applauded the courage of Daniel Barden for going public about his condition.
“For young people, such as those at our school, knowing that he has come out saying he has testicular cancer, they will feel less afraid of going to GP,” he said.
Working with Its On the Ball, Tom has spoken to pupils in assemblies about his condition and recovery to raise awareness of testicular cancer.
“The NHS and N&N were also fantastic, they were there throughout and they are still there now,” he said. “I have check-ups fairly regularly and if I notice anything they are at the other end of the phone.”
Meanwhile, Wayne first noticed something unusual in February 2017, but when he was diagnosed in December, his testicle was engulfed by a large tumour and the cancer had spread to his abdomen. After having the testicle removed, he began chemotherapy.
“With diagnosing testicular cancer early, the chances of needing chemo are low and the recovery rate is really good, but once it has spread it is an aggressive cancer,” he said.
“I did not catch mine early enough and it spread to my abdomen, so I was in a rush to get it sorted because I was told I had a year to live if did not have chemo then.”
Four months after diagnosis, the chemo had eradicated the cancer, but Wayne will have annual check-ups. To combat the effects of chemotherapy, he recommends a healthy diet and exercise.
A chef by trade, he had just set up a catering business with his partner Sophie, Country Box Catering Ltd, when he was diagnosed.
“Having to take six months out of work had a massive financial impact, so it is not just health-wise for catching it early.
“It nearly cost us our livelihood and has taken time to build the business back up but we are running at full steam now.”
Wayne, who lives in Wymondham with Sophie and their sons Harry, 6, and Vinny, 2, who was born after his recovery, also praised Daniel Barden for speaking about his condition.
“It is making men aware. If not for my fiancé, I would not have got checked for another six or seven months. Women care more, men just brush it under the carpet, and that is what I did between February and December.
“But it is nothing to be embarrassed about. It is cancer at the end the day and with more people speaking about it, that makes people more conscious to check themselves,” said Wayne who is also grateful for the staff at Norwich Colney Centre and NNUH oncologist Dr Susanna Alexander.
Its On The Ball was formed in 2014 after Dr Alexander wrote to patients with a view to establishing a support group.
Over the last seven years, the Norwich-based charity has grown to offer support to patients being treated and going through chemotherapy with special packs containing pyjamas, soft toothbrushes as gums can be painful with chemotherapy, mints, ginger biscuits (ginger is good for digestion), and squash cordial.
Founder chairman and Chief Executive Officer Vince Wolverson said: “We also have a buddy system where we will talk to guys when they are going through treatment, and broaden that out to family members as well. We are not trained counsellors, we are just people who have been through it ourselves, so we understand the issues.”
The charity, which is funded by donations and grants and covers most of East Anglia, also gives out financial support to help patients with childcare, travel costs, or in one example bought a second-hand phone so a man who had no fixed abode could keep in touch with those treating him.
“Awareness is our big thing and we like to get into schools, colleges, youth groups and work places because it is a young man’s cancer so getting message to 15-16-year-olds is important,” said Vince, who was diagnosed with testicular cancer 32 years ago while in the RAF.
Talks have also been delivered at the Norwich City youth academy over the past four years.
“Daniel Bardon was at one of the talks last year and that is the reason he was aware and knew to check himself and get it sorted out quickly,” added, Vince, who spends three days a week running the charity.
Men can also sign up for monthly text message reminders (text BALLS to 66777) to check themselves for any signs of testicular cancer.
NNUH consultant oncologist Dr Susanna Alexander, who is a trustee of the charity, said that testicular cancer is the most common cancer in young men.
However, she said: “It is most definitely curable, sometimes with surgery alone and sometimes with surgery and chemotherapy.”
But she emphasises the need for men to regularly check themselves as there are much better clinical outcomes when the condition is picked up early stages, although she acknowledged there remains a reluctance for men to visit their GP when they have such health issues.
This, she added, is where organisation such as It’s On the Ball play such an important role in raising awareness among younger men.
It’s On the Ball: www.itsontheball.org