Some of you will be aware of my previous writings, whether on this roughly year old WordPress site or maybe even from a more “learned” source like a legal journal. On the basis that I have not yet achieved rock-star levels of infamy via my day job, there is a chance others happening upon this post will not be aware of my ramblings, but do read on, because this could just be the most important thing I will ever write and the most important thing you will ever read. Does that sound arrogant? Stick with me. If you are a bloke, or someone who cares about a bloke (which might feasibly be the whole population), that should bear my prediction out.
Testicular cancer. Wait, were you not expecting this paragraph to start with “testicular cancer”? I wasn’t expecting testicular cancer either, but I have acquired it. Not only that, it seems to have “traded” (a term one of the wonderful medical staff at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary used), leading to shadows appearing on my lungs, liver and bones when I was put through an MRI scan. As someone who teaches property law, I generally like my trades to be publicised and consensual, but the complete lack of autonomy I had over this trade that took place in the embodiment of flesh, blood and bone I call my own is a sobering thought. Sobering or not, cancer seems not to care about that.
Generally I keep well. To the extent the patient is a relevant variable in terms of the onset of cancer, this all came to the fore for me at the age of thirty. In my time I have ran marathons, bagged the odd Munro and played that somewhat onerous woodwind instrument known as the bagpipes in full ceremonial dress whilst in climates not exactly sympathetic to such an activity. Does this make me an ideal candidate for cancer? Well, whether it does or it doesn’t, cancer seems not to care about that.
Could I have caught this sooner? This is when you need to pay attention, dear reader. I have been beating myself up about what ifs, which is something no-one should ever do at the best of times, but thinking time in a hospital does things to a person.
Diagnosis – my own “what ifs”
The first what if is a very specific one. I was born with an undescended testicle. I will spare you the anatomical detail of that, but suffice it to say this was fixed in my youth with the assistance of an operation. The repositioned testicle has now decided to go a bit insurgent. Again, I will spare you any details, but I understand there is a chance these things can play up later in life (my inclination to search the internet for any information to corroborate this whilst I am in hospital is slim, but it was confirmed to me anecdotally). So if this might also be relevant to you, be wise to it.
What other what ifs can I if and what about? For a while I thought I had a bit of a groin strain, putting it down to something muscular, and as such in need of rest. Then things got sorer and I noticed some swelling at the top of my inside leg. (In fact, I maybe even noticed the swelling a month or so before, but it was not that sore and I did nothing.) I popped to my GP and a hernia was suspected – an inguinal hernia, to be exact – and I duly accepted the fixing of that hernia was likely to be my path to lessened pain. In the process of this hernia side-show, a fair few people had a good-old prod around said inside leg area and the scrotum for good measure. No-one noticed anything misshapen. No bumps on the testes. So apparently I was denied this particular clue (on clues, see below).
On the day before my actual diagnosis, when I was admitted to hospital after continuous breathless whinging to anyone that would listen that I was in whopping pain and unable to walk any distance, leading eventually to a rather suspect blood test to confirm something was wrong, another doctor undertook a pretty thorough investigation of my abdomen, back and pelvis. He observed that what turned out to be the treacherous testicle seemed a bit denser. Not exactly easy to check on your own, but maybe just one other thing to ponder.
Diagnosis – guidance from people who know
There are resources out there that can explain these things better than me, so why not have a look at them to see what you, or your partner, can check. Starting local, UCAN (Urological CANcers) might be a good place to begin in the north east of Scotland. Casting the net to the whole of Scotland, Male Cancer Awareness Charity, Cahonas Scotland, have commenced a campaign called Tartan Checks: sure, it might be a little twee, but it is an important message. There is then the inspirational foundation set up by testicular cancer survivor John Hartson, with its guidance here. Lastly, I recently noted the esteemed legal blogger Charon QC posting about this very important topic on his blog. Well played to the firm Field Fisher Waterhouse, with the help of Macmillan Cancer Support, for their FAQs on the matter. Maybe one of these resources might help a reader hurry a diagnosis along and avoid some of the complications that come from leaving it too late.
The medical future
As for after my diagnosis, the doctor in charge of my treatment asked me whether I had ever felt any pain in the testicle (honest answer: yes, but it went away pretty promptly and I thought it might just have been twisted or something) or whether I felt any pain when coughing (honest answer: yes, particularly before I went to the doctor about my “hernia”, but I didn’t think it was that bad). So maybe I did miss something, and hey, what if…?
But I can’t think like that. To adopt the British Army’s legendary approach to dealing with a balls-up, “we are where we are.” So what do we do now? The first thing to deal with the day after my diagnosis was fertility. Okay, not exactly something that is easy for me to write about or easy for anyone who has not been in such a situation to imagine, but it did reassure that a path was at least envisaged for after the treatment programme.
On an entirely different point, my discussion with the medical staff over at the Aberdeen Fertility Centre did home in on legislation like the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, which I have mentioned briefly in past property law lectures. Would it be too bold to suddenly introduce an object lesson about ownership of body parts and gametes into such classes? If I could handle the fact students of law might suddenly start wondering about sexual organs (and specifically my sexual organs) mid-class or in the pub afterwards, it might be a good idea. It might also make them realise that checking for testicular cancer is something that is pretty bloody important at any age, which would definitely be worth the effort.
Whilst that is all well and good, I suppose I had better worry about the next stage of my own treatment. That seems to involve a lot of chemotherapy. Bring it on.
The future more generally
So that is part of the future that I definitely do care about, but events like this do allow you to separate out the wheat from the chaff in your life. For example, the diagnosis has rather tuned my dial off certain aspects of the online scene, especially of the political posturing and prediction type. As I killed time on the internet (I suspect an increasingly modern hospital phenomenon), I reached something of a standard that an apparently newsworthy post had to attain a photobomb level of greater than “whale” before I would actually care what that post said any more than this seagull.
Scottish bloggers and commentators, this one included, have been known to say a few things about the independence referendum that will take place in September 2014. There is really nothing like a cancer diagnosis to make one scream “GROW UP” at some of the shitstorms that blow over social media and possibly even the Scottish press. So please, do play nice, and don’t get into arguments about whether it was absolutely ridiculous to try to characterise something [gargantuan/piffling – delete as appropriate] as a storm in a teacup: yes, I did see such an exchange whilst Twitter-lurking and rather bored on a hospital bed. All going well, after a good thwack of chemotherapy I might just tune back in to the debate again, but inevitably my perspective will have changed a little. Much as I could not really get too vexed when ten-man Hearts nicked a late goal against Aberdeen last Saturday. Sorry, Shankly, fitba isn’t as important as life and death. Neither is the old #indyref. Getting to September 2014 is suddenly far more important to me than the ultimate result of the referendum.
Although I would never deign to put myself in the same echelon as such a great writer as he, the recent demise of Iain Banks from cancer certainly made me pay a bit more attention to his work. By the time he turned 30, The Wasp Factory was already produced. At the time of his death some 29 years later, he was able to proudly refer to a considerable back-catalogue of work. I might not have as much to hand as he had, but I do have some output and memories I can look back on and say “well, that’s not too bad.” On a side-note, I suppose a diagnosis like this does bring a chance for self-reflection in a manner that more sudden circumstances can horribly deny, not to mention it can make you realise how blessed you are with friends and family who are willing to drop everything to visit, call, write or whatever just to give you that timely and very welcome pick-me-up. Sincere thanks to everyone who has done just that.
But of course, my music has not quite stopped just yet. Maybe I can stick around and use this as inspiration to get a Banks-like back-catalogue.
Today I turn 31. It has not been the most orthodox birthday I have ever had. I will just need to make sure I am still around for another. With the support of the fantastic National Health Service, I fully intend to beat this treacherous bastard tumour, whilst mopping up any wee fucker gang members trying to widen their cancerous patch. If somehow I do not, at least I have written this blog. If one other person pays a bit more attention to the dangers of testicular cancer on the back of it, it will have been worth the writing. Now that would be a back-catalogue to be proud of.