Words we don’t want to hear: You have cancer
They are three words a person dreads hearing because the eventual outcome can either produce good or bad results.
With the annual Relay for Life nearing next month in Fallon, participants have either heard these three words or have been caretakers to those individuals who have.
By now, many of you have an idea of the three-word phrase: “You have cancer.”
My grandfather and father both died from cancer within 20 years apart from each other. Three months ago, I, too, was on the receiving end of that phrase when the urologist told me I had cancer, and he immediately wanted to perform the surgery. The horrifying last scene of my father gasping for his final breath in the Carson-Tahoe Hospital, however, still haunts me, even 12 years after his death. The flashback was surreal.
RELUCTANCE TO SHARE
While many different types of cancer can invade a person’s body, there are those individuals that may be too embarrassed to discuss it. Until it became widely accepted in society, breast cancer was one that many women either kept to themselves or within a circle of family and friends.
Likewise, the same does apply to men, especially when they learn they have testicular cancer in their late 50s or early 60s. Most cases of testicular cancer affect men in their late 20s and 30s. Very few come down this type of cancer in their later years. Unfortunately, I did, and I kept many of the symptoms to myself, not telling my family or closest circles of friends to include my best friend of what I was encountering.
What started out as soreness with one testicle eventually evolved into a hard, marble-like object that caused occasional discomfort. For several months I monitored the situation, still encountering the soreness, but I noticed more and more bleeding that saturated my briefs. Furthermore, I began to experience a dull ache in the abdomen and sometimes in the groin or lower back. Sometimes in the morning or evening before bedtime, I experienced nausea. Looking back at the developing symptoms, however, I sometimes wondered about lower back or groin pain before I noticed any change with the testicle.
In early November, I saw my physician who felt the smaller testicle was a result of an infection, something more common in older rather than younger men. The medicine he prescribed didn’t seem to help, but the bleeding ceased.
For the next two months, the pain increased, and the one testicle had grown into a hard mass about the size of an oblong marble. Finally, I saw my Carson City urologist who examined the testicle and had me get an ultrasound.
“You have cancer, Mr. Ranson,” he said after the results came in.
WILD MOOD SWINGS
Combined with the low testosterone levels, I realized what was causing some of my irritability; especially my wild mood swings months before the diagnosis and about six weeks after the operation.
One day I felt great, but on another day my mood swayed to where I would be best locked up in solitary confinement. My family expressed their concern and dismay that I waited so long to tell them, and I shielded my best friend because I didn’t want to burden her with another problem. Consequently, I discovered second-guessing is not the proper manner to keep those informed, and that erodes any teamwork.
I had the operation on Feb. 24, a Monday afternoon, in what began my weeks of a very shaky recovery. The operation went well but left me very sore.
The doctor had to cut into the abdomen and then remove the one testicle from the top. Tissue would be sent to the pathologist to see if all the cancer was removed or if I had traces of it in my lymph nodes.
For the next few weeks, my moods swung wildly, and the little events of life didn’t help during the first week of recovery when the water backed up in the kitchen to cause a flood and when I had to take my daughter’s 15-year-old cat to the vet to be euthanized because of failed kidneys. As I was getting ready for a vacation of R & R, I struggled with my workload, causing me to be on the edge with everybody with whom I came in contact.
My daughter described the mood changes as a man on menopause. Before my R & R began, my lab reports came in, and the urologist said I needed a CT scan after I came back because he was not sure if all the cancer was gone.
“First my grandfather and father and now me,” I thought. I became scared, telling myself I didn’t want to die.
From the time I experienced the discomfort after the operation, I kept much of the information to me, one of out embarrassment and the other because of machismo since it was testicular cancer. For those who experience anything like this, let your pride go and confide in others and they will understand the wild mood swings, the ups and downs, the easy ability to cry when frustrated
During my recuperation, I found myself agitated but didn’t communicate to those around me how I was feeling. At times the pain became intense, and I would pop a pain pill or two just to make me feel better.
I grew tired very easy and had trouble sleeping at night. When I did snap, I recognized it afterward and thought, “Oh heck, what am I doing?”
No one understood what I was encountering except for one person who had been a caretaker when her husband had cancer. She knew exactly my plight.
I snapped, I barked and became difficult to be around because of mood swings with the low testosterone levels. I became silent and moody. I retreated behind my own wall, which was a mistake. I couldn’t handle the stress and became frustrated with those who didn’t understand my condition. In fact, neither did I.
Several weeks later, I told my physician about the mood swings and especially the agitation. Not only did she elaborate on the mood swings, but she also felt the pain medication interacted with some of my regular prescriptions, thus causing me to experience worse changes in my demeanor.
I also had my CT scan, and the results came back negative; however, I must have scans every three months to ensure no traces of cancer have appeared in the lymph nodes.
While the additional information helped me understand my own situation, the news came too late to explain to those who had to endure my moody behavior during R & R. In the meantime, I have talked several times with a friend — a pastor at a local church — to help me understand how I let my actions affect others.
I’ve been trying to right myself and improve my approach to life. I am seeking improvement in God’s eyes but asking forgiveness, help and understanding from those I had offended. I pushed those away who could have helped me the most — or rather I pushed myself away. Better to understand before rather than after.
What can we all learn from this narrative on testicular cancer and not repeat some of my mistakes?
For starters, talking about cancer is serious business. I should have pumped both my doctor and urologist for more information and discussed with them in detail the symptoms and moods I had experienced months prior to the operation and how it was affecting my emotions … not after.
Quiz the doctor about how mood swings may overtake the person after the surgery. Weeks after the operation, mood swings took me from “highs” to several low points where I questioned my place on Earth.
While breast self examinations are important for women, self-examinations are also a must for men to check their scrotal skin at least once or twice a month for any enlargement or loss of size of the testicle, a feeling of heaviness in the scrotum, a dull ache in the abdomen or groin, pain in the testicle or scrotum or tenderness of the breasts.
And finally, be open with family and friends. If I hadn’t been so closed mouthed and embarrassed by the type of pain I was experiencing, my family would not have been in the dark, and friends around me would have been more tolerant of the mood swings, especially the agitation and tiredness, and understanding me would have been teamwork rather than guessing.
For me this is where I must trust God to right the wrongs with family and friends and help me improve my own worth.
For me, the learning experience has been one of physical as well as mental healing in trying to return to a normal life.
Steve Ranson is the editor of the LVN.