Mark Pattison
Mark Pattison and Paul CowenImage by: Mark Pattison
Mark Pattison
7 April 2021

It’s nuts how testicular cancer can mess with your head

6 minutes read time

"14 years! Has it really been that long since I was diagnosed? It only dawned on me the other day when I was stepping out of the shower. Exactly the same way I stepped out of the shower back then and first discovered a lump on one of my testicles.

Yep, I still chalk off the years since I had testicular cancer, and while it's a great feeling that it’s now a long time ago, it’s never quite far away when those stray thoughts catch me by surprise. 14 years on, and there are still those reminders that testicular cancer actually happened to me.

I’m certainly not shy when it comes to talking about my nuts if only to raise awareness. I mean, how many guys can say they’ve had three of ‘em? Granted, one is now a Six Million Dollar Man ‘falsie’ but hey, if those of us who have been on the journey can’t lower our guard and tell it as it is. I worry how many guys would be brave enough to open up about their concerns down below, particularly if those concerns need to be checked out by a GP.

I can clearly remember when I found my lump, that even I felt reluctant to say or do anything about it and hoped that if I ignored it, it would just go away. Thank god, my indecision was momentary, but I sometimes think about ‘what if…’ WHAT IF I had just left it?

Testicular cancer is highly treatable and highly curable, but because of that I sometimes think there’s a perception that it’s really not that big a deal in the grand scheme of things, and that those diagnosed just have a bollock off and carry on like nothing happened.

Of course, while my prognosis was far better than other types of cancer, just hearing that word at 28-years-old had a huge impact on my mental health, never mind the physical recovery.

Thankfully, my cancer was caught early and surgery and treatment took six months. But those six months felt like a lifetime, and running parallel with my diagnosis and far beyond the all-clear, was a bigger battle with severe anxiety and panic attacks.

Other guys may well have taken it on the chin and coped with testicular cancer better than me, but I will freely admit that I was absolutely terrified, despite the reassurance from my oncologist that he could cure me.

Panic attacks were a daily fixture. There were occasions I had to run outside just to breathe, and during my final overnight chemo session in hospital, I had an overwhelming urge to rip the cannula out of my arm because by that point I’d just had enough and wanted to hit the road and never look back.

So you can imagine that when I finally received the all-clear and normal life resumed, I barely had enough fuel left in the tank to begin the road trip with my mental health recovery.

I would like to think there is a better understanding of the link between men’s mental health and cancer diagnosis now, but back in 2007 I had to seek mental health support off my own back, to help deal with the nightmares and the abnormal over-checking of the one remaining, among other things.

That lack of understanding came as a real slap in the face, when only a few months after my all-clear, a friend sent me a lengthy email, taking me to task over how they thought I should be ‘over it’ and that I was using testicular cancer as an excuse to not move on with my life.

If they were trying to be cruel to be kind, it clearly didn’t work... It took a good few years of cognitive behavioural therapy and taking anti-depressants before I came close to being ‘over it’.

But it really wasn’t until seven years later, when I received a surprise invitation from Movember that things significantly changed.

I’d been supporting Movember for a few years by that point and was invited down to London to share a few drinks with a group of guys, who had also been through testicular cancer.

Being an introvert, I wasn’t really sure if this get-together was for me - I’m usually the quiet one when it comes to social gatherings at the best of times. But after a bit of persuasion, I decided to jump a train down from my native North East.

I fully expected to clink a few beers for an hour or two, maybe share a few ball jokes and then go on my merry way, never to see those strangers again.

Best therapy session ever!!!

That night went on for hours and hours. Strangers steadily opened up about the fear, the mental health struggles and emotional fallout they’d experienced as testicular cancer veterans.

So many similar stories. Stupid insignificant thoughts that had been rattling around in my head and had kept to myself, were now being laid bare by all these guys.

It was like the floodgates were opened, and for me that evening was when I turned a corner and began to recover from testicular cancer properly, realising the value of speaking to other ‘one-offs’. That night did more for my recovery than any CBT session had beforehand.

That evening wasn’t a one-off either. Over several sessions, I loosened up and laughed out loud over beer pong and pizza, and I can honestly say that the strangers I now call friends, brought me a lot of peace. I let go of many insecurities and the nightmares became less and less.

So I have to doff my cap to Movember’s Ben Bowers for making those one-off conversations happen. Twice diagnosed with testicular cancer himself, he held our counsel and it was those early conversations of really understanding what support men with testicular cancer need that were embryonic to Movember’s Nuts & Bolts support site.

You need those kind of mates who have been there, bought the testicular cancer t-shirt and can understand where your head’s at. And that’s one of the reasons why I have now signed up to be a Guide for Nuts & Bolts, which gives those who are currently facing a testicular cancer diagnosis the opportunity to speak to a mate if they feel the need to share their fears and anxieties while on the rocky road to recovery.

" Who knows how much quicker I might have gotten over it, had I had the chance to talk bollocks a lot sooner. "

Who knows how much quicker I might have gotten over it, had I had the chance to talk bollocks a lot sooner. And knowing how lonely that journey can be, even with the best support from family and friends, it isn’t hard for me to imagine how other young men might struggle with the added isolation caused by lockdown.

People sometimes apologise when they ask about my experience with testicular cancer, but I’m pleased that they do ask because if more of us can be open and honest, hopefully more young men will realise that their fears and anxieties are normal. You can get through it with the reassurance from those of us who are in your corner and cheering you on to get through it."