NI man John: ‘Being told I had testicular cancer felt completely surreal’

In the midst of the pandemic last September, John O’Kane started experiencing occasional bouts of pain and a general discomfort especially whilst sitting.

Friday, 11th June 2021, 2:14 pm
John O'Kane on the family farm

The 40-year-old engineer, who lives and works in Londonderry, said he initially deemed the pains to be “unpleasant but insignificant”.

“However with self-examination and more frequent and pronounced recurrence of the pain, I informed my family that something was amiss and they rightly ordered me to consult with our GP,” said John.

An examination by the doctor, led to a referral to Omagh Hospital the next day for an ultrasound scan by way of a precautionary measure.

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“At this juncture, I was confident that the doctors were just being super cautious,” said John.

“I always considered myself (and still do) to be a healthy person who loves the great outdoors.

“We have a small farm which enables me to get out and about to enjoy all our countryside has to offer.”

However, a telephone call later in the afternoon on the same day as the scan revealed that there was an anomaly that would necessitate urgent referral to an urologist for further consultation.

“This didn’t sound good, especially with the urgency that was expressed, however I decided to remain optimistic in the face of any impending potential for a diagnosis to be of the worst kind,” said John.

“Fast forward by three weeks and I met with the consultant at the Roe Valley Hospital in Limavady.

“He instantly confirmed my worst fears that the scan revealed that I had a testicular tumour.”

John said he experienced a “whole raft” of emotions.

“Initially, I was shocked that this was my story – it felt completely surreal.

“ I felt anger at myself for perhaps not discovering the tumour earlier and not acting quicker.

“This then morphed into a sense of self-pity and then thoughts of my mortality.

“I was anxious and stressed, with feelings of nausea, as I was embarking on a journey that I never dreamt I’d be on.

“I thought “why me?”, but then, on reflection, why wouldn’t it happen to me?

“The statistics tell us that around one in two of us will be affected by cancer at some stage in our lives.”

John was red-flagged for surgery, and the consultant reassured him he had caught it early and therefore it was very treatable with every chance of a full recovery.

“Even with these words of encouragement, such a diagnosis will always strike fear into us and remind us that we are in no way invincible,” said John.

“The occasional pain that I had experienced prior to this soon became a dull and aching presence that never subsided; however, I could still go about my daily routine. A week after my consultation at Roe Valley, I found myself in Altnagelvin Hospital for an orchidectomy (surgical removal of one or both testicles) – this was a mere seven weeks after my first inklings that something wasn’t right.

“Furthermore, on the day before surgery, I could sense that the tumour had enlarged further since my earliest discovery, and indeed it felt somewhat denser as well.

“From the outset, its detection was not immediately obvious, as the tumour did not feature as a surface lump that was immediately visible, but as a mass within the testis, and so this is how such growths can go unnoticed for some time.”

Due to the pandemic, which meant hospital visits were not permitted, John said he had to “walk the walk” on his own.

“I had thankfully never lay in a hospital bed in my life up to that point, (and with no disrespect to the wonderful medical teams, I hope that I never will again!)

“The surgery was swift and declared to be uneventful, and I returned home after a two-day stay in hospital.

“My next mental hurdle was the prospect of discovering that cancerous cells may have spread to other parts of my body.

“A CT scan was carried out four days after my surgery at the North-West Cancer Centre at Altnagelvin Hospital.

“Following this, I returned home to continue to recover from the surgery and wait for the results of the scan.

“Needless to say, this was an anxious wait, but in the midst of this, my faith in God was nonetheless steadfast and give me an inner strength.

“Nine days later and the surgical doctor called to confirm that the tumour was indeed 100% cancer, but that it was localised and had not spread to any other organs.

“The fact that there was no spread was akin to winning the lottery for me.

“I was so relieved and so were my mother and sister, who were by my side throughout this entire journey and experienced the rollercoaster of emotions every bit as much as I did.”

Doctors at the Cancer Centre at the Belfast City Hospital recommended John have chemotherapy to target any cancerous cells elsewhere that may have gone undetected by the CT scan.

“Post treatment, I experienced the typical side effects of chemotherapy including sickness, low energy levels, low immunity and fatigue.

“Tumour marker blood testing carried out since have revealed that I am in active recovery, and life is progressively returning to normal.

“The Cancer Centre will continue to monitor me over the next five years in an effort to detect any possible recurrence.

“So, I survived and I suppose you could say that this journey has given me a sense of renewal and has certainly changed my perspective.

“The small things that would have previously troubled me now wane into insignificance, and I found myself beginning to evaluate my life, and count my many blessings.

“I owe a debt of gratitude, not only for the support of my own family, friends and work colleagues, but also to the countless medical professionals at the various hospitals I attended as well as my own GP practice, who were of the highest calibre in terms of their professionalism, and were found to be wholly kind, caring and compassionate.

“Furthermore, I was afforded a holistic treatment service by way of complementary therapies, counselling and workshops run by Action Cancer as well as the various trusts in association with Macmillan Cancer Support.

“Most noteworthy among these was the support provided by a counsellor called Donna from Action Cancer, who leant me a listening ear and was able to validate the range of emotions and feelings that were evoked throughout this cancer journey.”

This month Action Cancer is hoping to raise awareness in all men, not only about male specific cancers, but general health and wellbeing.

John said: “My message to anyone with any health concerns is not to dismiss it. If there is the slightest suspicion of any abnormality or you are generally feeling unwell and can’t explain it, a trip to the doctor for a check-up is easily arranged. Each and every man is a precious husband, grandfather, father, brother, uncle or son, with responsibilities, a role to play and a life purpose. In terms of our health, self-neglect only serves to expose us to an increased risk of a difficult journey, an unpleasant outcome, and at worst, a potentially avoidable terminal diagnosis – and no one wants this for themselves nor for their families.”

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