I was diagnosed with cancer in November 2005. Morning grey and overcast. Muted colours. Orange leaves on the tarmac. I went home from the doctors surgery armed with a reef of prints from the internet, NHS web sites and the like and sat down to have a good look at Teratoma. Whistle blown. The muddy hell of No Man’s Land waiting to get mown down with a Maxim gun, shrapnel bursting all around me, marching awkwardly with my left testicle the size of a King Edward potato. Something from the monster vegetable table at the Village Show.
I had been experiencing discomfort for sometime. My jeans too tight, my underpants not supportive enough, a groin strain… I’d made all the excuses, comforted myself with the reasonable assumptions and then, when the pain persisted, I’d decided to visit my GP. In and out, no worries. A reassuring talk and Id be on my way. Routine. I’d no sooner pulled my pants down than I knew from the slapped look on my doctor’s face that something was very wrong. ‘This is serious,’ he said, looking at me and then back at my swollen testes.
This is not something you want to be told while you have your pants around your ankles.
I had always vaguely supposed that a heart attack would see me off. It was part of my heritage, like Morris dancing, Xenophobia and tepid draught bitter. I had a cultural acceptance of the idea that one day Death would shake my hand, sending a searing pain up my arm and into my chest, until the life was squeezed out of me. My Grandad had gone suddenly like that one Sunday afternoon and it seemed likely that I would continue the tradition. Especially given my jingoistic pride in fried foods and stodgy desserts.
Blood tests. An ultra sound. Caught in the over-powering current of a whirlpool pulling me closer to the inevitable. A life-shattering consultation with the specialist in a small beige room at the beginning of December to learn the results: the testicle was like a cancerous Scotch egg. The tumour growing deep inside my knacker and gradually misshaping it. The only option was to have the testicle removed. And quickly. The stigma of sudden mortality. Trapped in a situation that I couldn’t escape from. The folk lore of the word that is taboo to utter out loud is on me. My Grandparents’ generation when the word meant an absolute and unchangeable death sentence. No road back from Mount Vernon hospital. Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, I think he’s got… you know… oh, he’s got…? Yeah… Cancer.