Shortly after his 30th birthday, David noticed a lump on one of his testicles while showering.
“It had probably grown within a week to an abnormally sized testicle from what I would call normal,” he says.
“Later I was told the change in size was due to what's called a hydrocele, a collection of fluid in the scrotum.
“Although I wasn’t doing any self-checks, I was quite aware of my body and things that shouldn't be there, and the things I should be checking up on. I was lucky – a testicular lesion shows up quite obviously, but it is up to the person to find out if it's benign or malignant.”
After two weeks, David realised something wasn’t right – his testicle had doubled in size, and it was slightly painful and unsightly. “I had to do something about it,” he says. He went to his GP who referred him to a urologist.
Cancer – now what?
David had an ultrasound and some blood tests. He was given a course of antibiotics and told to return for a follow-up in 10 days.
“I knew something was up and it wasn’t a bacterial infection,” David says. “It got me thinking over the next few days about the real impact to come. When I saw the doctor again, I had prepared myself for the worst.
“When he mentioned it was cancer, I froze for a moment and then responded without hesitation: ‘How do we beat it?’”
David’s treatment plan
After many consultations and assessments, David’s doctors put him on a chemotherapy regime.
“My vocabulary increased quite a bit during the journey. I believed in order to beat it, I had to know what was what; I had to name it, shame it and know what was being done to me. I didn't know it then but there are quite a few ways to ‘cure’ this type of cancer, so they aren't always the same and it depends on your particular case and what stage you are at.
His diagnosis was Stage 2 germ cell non-seminoma, which had metastasised (spread) to his abdominal and pelvic regions.
“I had three consecutive days of a cruel three-part cocktail,” David explains. “It started with Etoposide for half an hour, followed by Cisplatin (the so-called magic silver bullet to kill the cancer or spreading of it) for 45 minutes and then a gruelling eight hours of Bleomycin.”
David endured three cycles of treatment with a week and a half’s break in between. He experienced side effects that included hair loss, mouth sores, loss of appetite and a change in how food tasted.
“Apple juice, especially, tasted funny and I craved more junk foods than usual.”
“Going through the journey itself, I would say I was very fortunate as I was young and healthy. I did have some bad habits – the typical South African ones of binge drinking and occasional smoking – but those are now gone. Now I’ve become an athlete (well triathlete) and pay a lot of attention to my health.
“Focus on your diet and be as healthy as possible, and get over the experience emotionally. Stay away from negative people and harmful substances and bring it all down into bite-sized chunks you can manage. It is a mountain that can be climbed, and learnt from.”
Early detection saves lives
The five-year survival rate for testicular cancer is more than 90% when testicular cancer is diagnosed while still confined to the testicle.
Unfortunately many men will wait months before seeing a doctor.
Health24 previously quoted Dr Jay Raman, chief of urology at Penn State Medical Centre, who said: "I think part of it is the macho man complex – that everything is fine. Then you add on top of that the fact that it is a sensitive area, and they may have some embarrassment about it."
Touch your testicles
All men should do a self-examination at least every six months.
You need to check that both testicles have the same contours (smooth and soft) and have the same kind of consistency as a hard-boiled egg or the palm of your hand. Sometimes the testicle can become swollen and grow bigger, and some men have reported having a heavy aching feeling around their scrotum area or lower belly.
If you notice anything out of the ordinary – lumps or bumps, one testicle feeling different to the other, pain, a heavy feeling – don’t feel embarrassed and see your doctor immediately.