April is testicular cancer awareness month with April 1st kicking off awareness week. Over 9,000 men will be diagnosed this year, but the good news is the survival rate averages 95% with 99% survival for early detection before it spreads out of the testicle.
I had the opportunity to interview fellow physical therapist and testicular cancer survivor Scott Chupnick about his experience with testicular cancer with regard to what initial symptoms took him to the doctor, the challenges and transformation he and his family have gone through, as well as the life lessons from this experience. He also has an important message for all you guys (and gals) out there!
October 31st was a normal day while Scott and his kids were moving a pool cover. The next day he had groin pain and some increased pain in his back pain. He dismissed the back pain as being from his fusion a few years ago, but the groin pain was suspicious of a hernia, so he started checking himself out “down there.” Nothing unusual at the groin since he would expect a bulge if there was a hernia, but things got very alarming when he discovered his left testicle was much larger than it should be and he thought “Holy shit! That’s not normal!” Friday, November 2nd found him in the ER, where they did the usual tests with ultrasound and blood work, but the CT scan was a bit alarming. The lymph nodes on the left side of his stomach were enlarged. The picture was coming together: enlarged left testicle with enlarged lymph nodes on the left side of the stomach was highly suspicious of testicular cancer that had already begun to spread. He now meets with the oncology team and is in surgery for a left orchidectomy (removal of the left testicle) on the following Wednesday, November 7th. Surgery went well then the 12 weeks of chemo was started on the 26th. Testicular cancer moves quickly and so does the team! Today is March 14th and Scott is well on his way to recover. He was able to keep one testicle which will produce enough testosterone to not need supplements and chemotherapy is over while they transition into a watchful waiting period. The lymph nodes are a lot smaller than they were (over 57% reduction in size) and the tumor markers are more normal.
What does recover look like? “This is very curable and responds well to chemo… Of course, it is better if caught early and if caught early enough you may be able to avoid chemo all together if it has not spread.”
“Twelve weeks of hell!” is how Scott describes the chemotherapy. He was surprised the nausea was easier to manage than he feared and had medications to help. The fatigue, though, was the worst; “It changes you. It’s like you are a whole different person.” His wife is amazing, and he is amazed by her patience as she continued to work (they both did) and take care of the house as well as go with him to the surgery and the doctors. There were days the fatigue was so bad Scott couldn’t even go to the grocery store. The hair loss was another big issue. “Being a guy, that’s one of the things I thought I’d be bothered by but turned out actually am pretty good with it.” It was pretty hard to hide, and his patients noticed. He now talks to them, men and women, about the importance of regular self-exams.
What did you learn from this experience? “Change in perspective of what’s important, what to stress over and what not to stress over. From the moment of the diagnosis your whole life is turned upside down.”
What should every man know? Check yourself every month, teach your sons to check every month from the age of 15 when this can start to be a problem. “The fact is that if it drags on it can then end up spreading easily to the stomach, then the lungs, then the brain.”
Do an internet search on how to do a testicular exam and what to look for. Dr. Oz has a humorous video about this! You can also ask your doctor next time you see him, or you can see your local pelvic physical therapist…. I wonder who that could be? Hmmmmm … me!