An unexpected diagnosis, an unorthodox birthday and an unwelcome tumour

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.

Concluding thoughts

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.

testicular cancer faq

Image credit –, at

About basedrones

Bachelor of Laws. Scots lawyer working at the University of Aberdeen. English law qualified. Took far too long to write this bio. Blogs on legal issues, with occasional veering into other purportedly intellectual stuff from time to time. Tweets about legal issues, education, law clinics, fitba, music, rogue cell division and not at all about politics at @MalcolmCombe.
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72 Responses to An unexpected diagnosis, an unorthodox birthday and an unwelcome tumour

  1. squirrelknutz says:

    God bless you mate & know that your blog may already have made a difference as I’ve just emailed the link to our 31 year old who is probably not even aware he had op for undescended testicle at a very young age.

    Will keep you in my prayers

  2. Boff says:

    Amazing piece my friend, really impressive. My only disappointment is that you didn’t find space to discuss your favourite fish, perhaps next time? Take care buddy, I’ll see you soon. Boff

    • basedrones says:

      Thanks. I’d probably opt for haddock as my favourite fish, but I have a soft spot for mackerel, especially when it’s freshly caught off the east coast of Lewis. 😉

  3. Graham Campbell says:


    Your best written post and it’s for this. There’s an irony, and no mistake. I’ll be damned if acquiring cancer makes the best writer of you. Show me how much more eloquent you are when you come to write this post’s antidote.

  4. Alex says:

    You are a fine wordsmith and a genuine inspiration. I hope you at least got some orthodox ice-cream and jelly, courtesy of the NHS, on your unorthodox birthday. Best wishes, Alex

    • basedrones says:

      Thanks, Alex. The birthday was certainly idiosyncratic, but strangely enjoyable in its own way with all the visitors, cards and gifts I received. But not one I would plan to repeat, rather one to look back on in the future!

  5. Catherine says:

    I was proud of your positive attitude on Monday and now you’ve made me shed a tear or two. You are indeed an inspiration and I’m so glad we’re family. Oh by the way there were no left over Pittodrie macaroni pies anyway!! Love ya, Catherine xx

    • basedrones says:

      Thanks, Catherine. Should I expect any leftover Pittodrie pies after the St Johnstone game today? 😉 Thanks for all the support, online and in person, and see you soon.x

  6. Susan says:

    All the very best with your treatment.

  7. Anonymous says:

    This really opens your eyes. I’m still a teenager and in good health as far as I know, but cancer won’t care about that. If I’m confronted with a challenge like this, hopefully your piece will help to keep me half a step ahead.

  8. Jurgen Donaldson says:

    Never order a bacon roll, they are awful!! On a serious note the doctors and nurses on ward 17 are amazing! Best of luck for your treatment! To be frank, fuck cancer!

    • basedrones says:

      Noted on all points. I’ve not felt the urge for a bacon roll…yet! I heartily all the doctors and nurses are amazing, I cannot speak highly enough of them.

  9. Irene says:

    Written with great courage and dignity, Malcolm. We are all holding you close in our thoughts.
    Love Irene xx

  10. patrickkane says:

    As always Malcolm, well written. Wishing you all the best in your treatment, and I’d like to recommend a heavy dose of Idlewild. In my thoughts.

  11. Alasdair says:

    I’m sure this piece will have pulled most people out of whatever was previously occupying their thoughts. Now it’s up to us and others to help you pull through. God bless. (P.S. when would it be okay to discuss the Hearts game?…)

    • basedrones says:

      Cheers, Al. We can discuss the Hearts game whenever, although I might have a slightly softened perspective on its importance as anything other than pure escapism! Well, and a good excuse to meet good friends. Both of which are pretty crucial, actually, now that I think about it!

  12. wagonmaster1 says:

    I don’t know you but I applaud this blog, not for it’s unfortunate diagnosis but for it’s plea that we get to work on the important stuff in life. For you, tops of that is getting better and I wish you much luk and support from a stranger who cares. x

  13. marisa macdonald says:

    Sending you lots of love and positive energies Malcolm, from all in Upper Bayble, Marisa xxxx

  14. Cassie Innes says:

    Fantastic blog,so well written. All the best with your treatment. Take care xx

  15. Christie Mitchell says:

    Beautiful, brave and inspiring writing in horrible circumstances Malcolm. Sending you lots of courage, strength and positive vibes. Get well soonest, lots of love x

  16. Victoria says:

    Oh Malcom, a wonderfully written piece. Look at all of these people who have responded to you, and the hundreds that will read this and take heed. a comment to say how you have positively affected them in their lives. We missed you on Tuesday and we are sending positive vibes your way.

    I would like to visit you sometime if you don’t mind, and if you do…tough, naw no worries at all. Give us an email and let me know when would be good for you.


  17. Sara says:

    I stumbled upon your blog via “Red Wine Runner” today and wish you the best. As a 37 year old nursing professor, runner and adrenaline seeker, I sympathize with what you are experiencing as I was diagnosed this summer with my own aggressive malady. In the wake of such news, life changes-or it did for me. I am inspired by your attitude and spirit. Thank you for this post.

  18. Sharon Houston says:

    I’m glad to see this hasn’t broken your ever cheery attitude Malcolm, stay positive and good luck with your treatment. I wish you a speedy recovery xx

  19. droid says:

    Strength, courage and love all around you Sir for the hard days ahead ➡ ➡ ➡

  20. xy says:

    Perspective is an amazing thing, thanks for your words. All the very best to you.

  21. Pam says:

    What a shock to read your news. Thank you for such an honest and down-to-earth post – I’m sure many people will benefit from it. Wishing you well. Go get those little fuckers!!

  22. Reblogged this on Andreas Dimopoulos and commented:
    I can only wish him the best of luck and good health.

  23. I hate your news. I love the way you write about it. Best.

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  25. Really hope this gets turned around for you, it certainly can’t be easy.
    As you say if it gets even just one person to self inspect for testicular cancer then you are to thank.

    I’ve twice found “a wee lump” on one of my testes – both times it’s turned out to be a wee cyst & nothing to worry about. I think most guys are embarrassed to go see a doctor in the first instance – some don’t until it’s too late, so my apologies for “hijacking” this to relate my 1st encounter with a “wee lump”.

    One day having a wee rummage as guys sometimes do – sitting in the Al Bundy pose (you remember Married With Children?) I found a wee lump on one of my testes, I got a wee bit worried especially as my dad had died a short time before from stomach cancer, further inspection confirmed (to me) I’d be best getting it looked at – just in case.
    Now I’d registered with a local doctors a couple of years before hand but had never seen the need to visit – little was I aware it was a practice staffed solely by female doctors!
    So as I sat in the waiting room this adorable looking female doctor called me from along the hall – shit I thought “I just assumed it’d be a male doctor” As we walked along to the consulting room she mentioned there was another trainee doctor with her and asked if I minded them being there. “No not at all” I replied – being a PhD student at this time I was then & still am all for learning through experience as part of the overall learning process.
    On entering the consulting room there I saw an even nicer and “fitter” looking female doctor “double shit” I thought.
    So feeling a bit embarrassed by things I mentioned the “wee lump” & also blurted out something like “I know it’s nothing I just wanted a bit of advice really” That didn’t get me out of getting examined! Both doctors where, as you’d expect 100% professional, though it was a bit of a strange overall situation.
    Lying back on a couch with two beautiful and fit women examining your nether regions is a dream for most guys, apparently, just in case of any untoward “natural reaction” I filled my mind with other things – or rather other women – I was tempted to ask if I could get “mind bleach” on the NHS afterwards to clear the image of Anne Widicome & Maggie Thatcher trying to entice me in to their bordello!
    Result of the examination was that they where both “pretty sure” it was a small cyst and nothing to worry about – but just in case – sent me for a scan. This was done a few weeks later by a male radiologist who seemed more embarrassed than I had been with the two female doctors.

    So that’s my tale of finding a “wee lump” yes embarrassing getting it seen to but what a relief knowing it was nothing to worry about in the first place.

    Guys it’s not really embarrassing getting these things checked. The medical professionals are 100% professional – they see “this stuff” every day – it’s nothing to them – any perceived embarrassment is purely in your head.

    Caught early enough cancer can be treated & you can go on to live a full & normal life.

    By the looks of it to my untrained eye @basedrones has got help early enough, still a long & rocky road – but positive belief & thought are more powerful than you could really imagine – the help mentally & physically – see placebo trials for proof of that!

    • basedrones says:

      Thank you so much for that detailed comment, hopefully that might trigger someone who might otherwise be a little embarrassed to just go and get checked. As for me, alas my own road involves chemotherapy, but the survivability stats I have had quoted at me (from those qualified and not) for testicular cancer caught before it rampages all around the body all make me feel that I have a really great chance of beating this. As you note, positivity can be a key part of that, so your well wishes are also greatly appreciated!

  26. Steve Mead says:

    Good luck mate.

  27. AngusOgg says:

    Hullo there, long time no see.
    I’m on round 2, surgery didn’t get me, chemo tried but to be honest put up much less of a battle than I was ready for! Finished treatment 12 weeks ago, cycled 22 miles today and planning the New Years Day Sprint Triathlon!
    Two shitey but very apt statements I have became fond of I gift to you!
    Carpe Diem Baby, (Metallica Version)
    Rage against the dying of the light.
    Stick in and Livestong, Kenny.

    • basedrones says:

      Long time no see, but great to see your words and artistic pointers. “Stay Positive” by The Hold Steady has been a regular song for me, for its title alone! That’s great news on your 2013 activities. I will need to consider what I can join you for in 2014…

  28. Arthur Osborne says:

    Feel bad for not reading your blog before , but I’m sure you’ll forgive me .But good luck with your treatment and i wish you and every cancer suffer a speedy recovery.

  29. Scott McLean says:

    Hi Malcolm, I was sorry to have heard your news but your post sums you up completely. I only worked with you for a year or so but you were a great laugh and always had time for people. I wish you well in your recovery.

    I too have had a pain in my groin for a good few weeks but have put it down to over stretching at 5s. I’ve not been able to play since and don’t see myself playing for a bit yet, and now based on what you have written, I will be making an appointment to see my doctor to put my mind at ease. It may be nothing but better to get checked. If it turns out I am in the same situation then I would have you to thank for this post

    All the best mate. Maybe I’ll see you at a Scotland game in the future playing your bagpipes again

    • basedrones says:

      Thank you so much for the comment and your mindset to now going to the doctor. I mean, it might be nothing, but it might not be nothing. I’ll do all I can to see you at Hampden in the future, pipes or not. The Belgium game is just a little soon for me. Cheers.

  30. Anonymous says:

    Firstly i would just like to say how sorry i was to hear your news and wish you and yours all the best in your upcoming battle.

    I actually went to the same high school as yourself and, although you probably would not remember me, i had the pleasure of your company on several occasions where your intelect and wit was always a pleasure to be around.

    Can i just say from talking to the many people who have heard your sad news, people you will remember from j-high and people you wont, people you will have liked and perhaps people you will not have, all have been genuinely saddend and commented on how, if there was any justice in the world then, something like this would not have happened to someone as decent as you!!

    So although i have no doubt that you have achieved many great things since leaving school and written many great pieces, as i am sure you will do in the future, once your battle is won, perhaps an equally big achievement is the fact that despite being a guy of superior intelect with a passion for the pipes, at a school where that was as unusual as it could have been unpopular, your personality and the fact you are just a really nice guy made you impossible to dislike and has caused people who have not seen you in over ten years to be sincerely upset at your news!! Thats not a bad achievment in itself!!

    Once again i wish you all the best, and look forward to you being around for many more years of aberdeen medicority!!

    • basedrones says:

      Thank you for the message and best wishes, all the way from the good old days of Johnstone High. It’s a funny old thing, but an Aberdeen FC supporting, slightly Highland-sounding, quirky and geeky type would not necessarily have been a prime candidate to fit in at such a Renfrewshire school, but I don’t know that I would have changed my high school experience for the world. It was a great mixing pot, and I made friends across the whole social spectrum. In a way I would like to think that has contributed to my open-minded approach to people later in life. It is really great to hear that goodwill still goes both ways. And you know what, at the moment I might just trade some Dons mediocrity at fitba for a few more years of being fit and well, but surely we must be due a win since the League Cup in 95/96?!

  31. Statto says:

    Hi Malky, it took me a while to get wind of your news, but you have been in my thoughts ever since I heard. Clearly you were missed yesterday at the Paisley BeerFest, and you were also the topic of much conversation, not just from band members, but from many others in attendance who know of you. They all pass on their best wishes for a full and speedy recovery, as do I of course.

    I hope you have been cheered by Scotland and Aberdeen victories in the last week, my Partick Thistle friends were suitably glum yesterday :>)

    I’d like to get up and see you as soon as possible, but clearly only when convenient for you. I’ll contact you via phone to sort something out.

    Best wishes, Statto

    • basedrones says:

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment Statto. By all means give me a call and we can sort something out. And yes, as you note, the escapism provided by fitba has been pleasing in recent days. I don’t think I will make the ICT game at Pittodrie, which is a shame, but I do plan to get back to match-fitness to support the Dons soon enough!

  32. gailebishop says:

    Just seen this from Frank Turner’s retweet – best wishes to you as you fight your way through this. I know my friend Ryan started blogging about his treatment when he was diagnosed with leukemia – thankfully in remission now. It was a fascinating, daunting and humbling read as the months went by through his treatment.

    One of my biggest bugbears at the moment is the number of posts on facebook of miscellaneous cancer-related pictures with caption “will you post this as your status for one hour to help raise awareness of cancer?”. With cancer affecting more and more people, I think we’re all now aware of it. Plenty of people are out running marathons and having their hair shaved off to raise money for pioneering research to improve testing, treatments and increase the number of options available to people with cancer – that’s great. But all of this awareness, fundraising and research is utterly pointless without (pun intended) having the balls to go to see you GP in the first place. Be brave and get it over with. If it turns out to be nothing serious – great, they’ve put your mind at rest and they’ll have given you a list of changes to look out for. But if it is something serious, surely it’s better that it’s picked up early when there are a greater range of treatment options available and so more likelihood of you living to tell the tale?

    I say all this because my uncle is a notorious workaholic who eventually got around to seeing his GP about his persistent back pain; it turned out to be prostate cancer that was already at Stage 2 and well on its merry way to Stage 3. They are treating him, but it’s anyone’s guess whether he’ll make it to Christmas 2013. It is a stark reality and something which we all wonder whether it could’ve been avoided, if only he’d made that appointment sooner.

    But you have youth and time on your side and a medium to keep your mind occupied. Use it to it’s full advantage so that you have something to look back on (even if it’s not a rival to ‘Wasp Factory’). 🙂

    • basedrones says:

      Here’s a really strange blast from the past. For some reason I was looking back over this blog and I realised this was the one comment I had not replied to. What an oversight! Yours was a lovely comment and I can only assume I meant to reply but I somehow got distracted mid-treatment. I do hope you see this so – belatedly – I can register my gratitude. Happily, I seem to be through the worst of it, but all the points you made were well worth making. I hope you are doing well. Thanks for reading, and commenting!

      P.S. I have nothing to match The Wasp Factory… Yet!

  33. Great words Malcolm, wish you all the best in your treatment. Keeping me in time with the band was a tough challenge and now this, you have had it bad ! Joking apart, my thoughts are truly with you mate, remember your motto ” I was born ready ”

    Keep up the fight ! .

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  37. Sunny says:

    Hi Malcolm,

    We hope your well and are pleased that you have used our infographic in your blog. Would be so kind as to change the URL to as we have now changed our domain name.

    Thank you

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