How Taking A 2nd Potentially Saved My Life
Hi, my name is Ken and I'm very much one of the lucky ones.
My story started back several years ago. I went through an emotionally-confusing divorce, which caused me to become a little bit of a hypochondriac. Around that time period, I saw a PSA online called "Do Your Testicles Feel Ok?" set to the tune of "Do Your Ears Hang Low?" This prompted me to perform a self-exam on my testicles. I immediately noticed that one of my testicles were of two different sizes -- my right testicle was significantly smaller than my left one. I made an appointment with my doctor and performed his own examination, but said that my testicles seemed perfectly healthy and to remember that testicles can certainly be different sizes. Hmm, ok. So, I left the office knowing that my testicles were fine and that right testicle was smaller than my left.
Fast forward several years later. I'm happily remarried and doing great in life. I'm still performing self-exams on a regular basis when I notice something odd: my right testicle was now just about the exact same size as my left. I asked my wife for her opinion as well and she also pointed out that my right testicle was also just a bit more firm than my left testicle. I made an appointment with my doctor -- the same doctor -- and he performed the exam. He didn't feel anything, but when I reminded him that my right testicle used to be much smaller, this piqued his interest. He scheduled me to have sonogram -- much like how health professionals check on the health of an unborn fetus. "It's probably nothing," he said. "I had to have one a few years back myself. It's not a big deal, but I just want to make sure."
Just a few days later, I had my sonogram with an ultrasound tech that looked just like Bulldog Briscoe from the '90s sitcom "Fraiser." The tech took the images and said nothing in relation to what he saw, as I assume they're instructed to do. A few hours later, my primary care physician called me.
"There's definitely a growth on your right testicle. It very well could be cancer." My heart sank down into my stomach and I developed a slight nervous tremor. "If it is cancer, good news is that testicular cancer is very treatable." That didn't offer much consolation -- all I was hearing was the c-word echoing in my mind.
"I've sent off a referral for you to meet with a urologist. They should be calling you soon."
Sure enough, I received a phone call from the same urologist's office I had been to a months back for an unrelated ailment that took me months to finally get an appointment to see.
"The doctor would like to see you tomorrow." The severity sank in with the immediacy of the appointment.
The next day, I went in to visit with the urologist. The doctor walked in with a grimace on his face -- never a good sign.
"I got a look at your scan. Eeek, you must be in a good amount of pain." "No, I'm not in any pain." "Really? Wow. Well, that's good. Anyways, we don't know exactly what this is yet. The growth is in the very center of the testicle and has not seemed to penetrate the outer membrane. It could be cancer or possibly some necrotic tissue from an infection. We won't know until we get in there. What I recommend is that we remove the entire testicle and send it away to be properly diagnosed. We don't want to perform just a biopsy because if it is cancer, a biopsy would further expose the cancer to the bloodstream. If it's not, the testicle still wouldn't function properly after we've dissected it. Fortunately, the male reproductive system is pretty redundant and you only need one functioning testicle for procreation."
The urologist and I scheduled my surgery for just a few days from that time period. I would be receiving a right radical orchiectomy -- the complete removal of my right testicle.
The days leading up to the surgery were a bit of a blur, but I was pretty upbeat that the growth seemed completely contained within the testicle. During a separate pre-op appointment to see if I was fit enough to undergo surgery, one doctor even commented, "With many men with testicular cancer, they may only need this surgery and then they're fine."
The morning of my surgery, my wife and father drove me in. I cracked jokes with them about my butt poking out of the back of my hospital gown, the look of my hospital cap for my long hair, and an array of ball jokes. I was also having to use the bathroom constantly simply out of nervousness (my bowels don't respond well to anxiety).
Before I knew it, I was wheeled back into a cold, bright operating room with what seemed like at least a half-dozen scrubbed-up specialists tending to some piece of equipment or another. After a few seconds, I was hoisted onto an operating table, a breathing mask was lowered over my face, and my vision went blurry until it cleared up, only for me to find myself in another room.
Meanwhile, the surgery had gone great. During an orchiectomy, the surgeon makes an incision further up on the abdomen, much like where an appendix is removed or a hernia is repaired. The testicle is drawn up by it's connected tubes and blood vessels out of the scrotum through the same passageway where it once descended. The connective tissues tubes are cut, sew up, and the testicle is removed through that incision. This definitely beats making an incision in the scrotum itself due to the firmness of the tissue around the incision as the ability to remove the spermatic cord -- connecting tube which cancer will frequently spread to the rest of the body through. The surgeon explained this all to my wife and father while I was still waking up, also saying that this is a very routine procedure and that he does nearly 100 of these every year.
My expected recovery was projected to be about a week at home. By the time the anesthesia had worn off, I was actually able to stand -- though my wife had to pull my pants up because bending at the waist was a no-no. My incision had no sutures -- it was instead held together with an extremely strong surgical glue. For the next week, every a cough, sneeze and laugh shot pain down my side. The most extreme pain occurred when my cat leaped up into my lap, landing on my incision and then jumping off of it again in terror from my screaming.
Overall, the recovery wasn't much more painful than having wisdom teeth removed and the worst part was the boredom. I could only sleep so much, but I was too exhausted to pay attention to a movie or read a book. One of these days, I recorded the first video that is featured on this page for the reason I mentioned in the video -- out of sheer boredom. I recorded it three or four times simply because I had the time to do so.
I would say the hardest part of this time was not physical, but emotional and psychological nights. My tumor had not yet been diagnosed. It was still out at the lab with my results to be revealed to me at my follow-up visit with the urologist a week from the day of my surgery. Because I didn't know what it was, my mind automatically shifted into the worst possible outcome -- that it was cancer, that it has spread all over, and that I didn't have much time left. Awake because I had been sleeping a lot of the day, I would have these visions in my mind me going through grueling cancer treatments, eventually dying from cancer, and then a mental image of my widowed wife feeding our cat all alone -- a cat I had years before we were together that reminded her of me on a daily basis.
Finally, a week was up and I headed to the urologist's office. He delivered the news: it was cancer. Classic seminoma. He quickly reassured me, "According to the lab, there were no traces of cancer in the spermatic cord, so it probably had not spread. We believe it was mostly completely contained within the testicle. If you had to have any kind of cancer, this is the kind of cancer you want." The cancer I want? That sounds so weird, but I'll take it. In my car right after getting out of the urologist's office, I made the Part 2 video that is featured on this page.
While I was out of the woods, I still wasn't quite out of the forest. With most anyone who is ever diagnosed with cancer, a period of medical surveillance is required. My urologist put in referrals for me to receive CT scans of my lower abdomen and a chest x-ray to see if any cancer had spread to my lymph nodes or into my lungs. This meant more anxiety between the time of the scans and when I would receive the results -- a feeling that I later found out that the cancer community calls "scanxiety."
The phone rang from the urologist's office. "We noticed a small growth on one of your lungs at the top of your abdominal CT scan. We'd like to have you in for a chest CT scan." The anxiety I felt that day about the possibility of cancer spreading into my lungs twisted my guts in knots and I spent half of the afternoon on the toilet. One more scan and a follow-up confirmed that I had a nodule on my lung. "Still, we don't know if this is cancerous or not. Almost half of all chest scan reveal benign nodules on people's lungs. We're going to keep an eye on it to see if it grows. If it does grow, we'll have to perform a biopsy." Nobody likes a wait-and-see recommendation, but it's all I had.
A few months went by and I received another scan. There hadn't been a day that went by when I didn't think about that nodule. I had become hypersensitive about my breathing. Was I breathing differently? What is happening inside of me?
During my follow-up appointment for the scan even further along, my urologist delivered the good news -- there was no sign of any spread in my lymph nodes and the nodule on my lung had not only not grown but had shrunk a little bit. That's when I heard some of the most bittersweet news that any patient cancer can hear: "I'll see you in 6 months."
While I'm cancer-free, I'm still under medical surveillance.
The reason I put this campaign together is the same reason why I feel why I had testicular cancer at all -- to tell young men to check themselves monthly for testicular growths. Had I not seen that silly "Do Your Testicles Feel Ok?" PSA so many years ago, I may not have caught my own testicular cancer as early as I did. I caught my cancer at the earliest possible sign resulted in what I feel may be one of the best prognosis' for anyone who has been officially diagnosed with cancer -- a week out of work and a few CT scans every few months.
On the 2nd of every month, check yourself. Do it for every person who didn't know to look. Tell the fellas in your life to #TakeA2nd4TheBoys.
- Ken Lane