Daniel J.'s Story
By Angela Generoso
Reviewed by William Shiel, MD, FACP, FACR
His scar is small, about four to five inches on his lower abdomen, just above the groin area. He doesn't really notice it much anymore, but the six-year memory lives vividly in his mind.
Daniel J. was never aware of the importance of self-exams for signs of testicular cancer, until he became a patient himself. As a 25-year-old delivery man at a local flower shop in Oakland, Calif., with no health insurance, he was more than unprepared when the situation arose. Looking back, he is surprised how little is done to inform the male population of the dangers of testicular cancer throughout adolescence.
"I came home from work on a Saturday, and within a couple of hours, I started feeling pain in my groin," Daniel said. "My scrotum was swollen and tender."
Thinking he had simply strained himself at work that day, Daniel took a nap, hoping it would just go away. But when he woke up later that evening, the pain was still there.
Daniel recalls doing a quick search online to figure out what his symptoms meant. Among the possibilities, he saw the words testicular cancer and started to become nervous.
"It was just a possibility at that moment, so I didn't have any specific reason to believe that was the cause," Daniel said. "I went to the emergency room, and I was clinging to the hope that it was a hernia or something simple. Anything but cancer."
After a physical examination at the local medical center, Daniel waited nervously to hear the results. He sat quietly in a hospital bed where just a thin sheet separated him from the rest of the room.
Then the phone rang.
Daniel could hear the doctor saying and spelling out his name on the phone. It was then that he heard him say, "Oh, so it's cancer."
"I was right behind the curtain," Daniel said. "I immediately became very upset and started crying."
Without insurance, Daniel was told he would incur a hefty bill if he stayed there to be treated, which brought him to the county hospital the next morning. Another blood test and ultrasound was conducted to confirm the diagnosis of testicular cancer, and an appointment was made with a urologist the following week. Daniel was then informed that he would have to go into surgery.
"By the time I was told I'd have surgery, I was more at ease," Daniel said. "The doctor's bedside manner had succeeded at keeping me calm, and he did a good job at informing me what this meant, what could happen, and what would happen. I was still nervous, but less than before. He kept my emotions in check."
Daniel ended up having surgery to remove the cancerous testicle two weeks after his initial diagnosis. Shortly afterward, he was taken in for an MRI to make sure the cancer hadn't spread to the remaining testicle.
"I was out of the hospital the next morning," Daniel said. "For me, there were no serious side effects, and I heard that if a man has to have cancer, testicular cancer is the kind you want because it is very curable and has a very high survival rate. But it was still a terrifying experience. I was scared out of my mind."
One of Daniel's greatest fears throughout the ordeal were the sexual side effects he would experience after having one of his testicles removed, but he was relieved when he was informed everything would remain the same.
"The doctor said that it was just like anything else you have two of. One is there to back the other one up."
Daniel was lucky overall in his experience because of all the symptoms of testicular cancer, he was told pain is not the strongest. Today Daniel does whatever he can to inform people around him of the importance of self-tests.
"I had no idea," Daniel said. "I was not performing self-exams. Had it not been for the pain, who knows how long it would've taken me to discover it."
Men between the ages of 15-40 should conduct a monthly testicular self-examination in order to detect testicular cancer symptoms early. It is best to perform the self-examination after a bath or shower, when the muscles are at a higher temperature and more relaxed. Performing the exam is a quick process of feeling over the surface of the testicle for any lumps that could be signs of testicular cancer.
Daniel feels that not enough is done to inform people about the dangers of testicular cancer symptoms and the importance of self-tests.
"I'm a pretty savvy, well-informed guy and I had no idea there was a threat or that I should be self-testing," Daniel said. "Whenever I tell this story, if there are young men in the room, I try to make a point that they need to test themselves. I was lucky I felt pain. Had I not, who knows?"
Daniel was also lucky he was able to go to a county hospital for the surgery. The grand total at Alta Bates Summit Hospital in Oakland, Calif., for the urine test, ER visit and ultrasound was a total of $4000. Yet, at Alameda County Medical Center, he ended up paying $20 for the testing, $100 for surgery, and $10 for the follow-up appointments.
Today Daniel looks at his experience as a challenge that was put before him, and he considers himself lucky to have survived.
"I'm not afraid to tell this story," Daniel said. "I want people to tell other men how testicular cancer symptoms can affect them. It definitely shocked me because I was right in the age range. There's not enough done to inform other men, and it's a population that really needs this information."
For additional information on testicular cancer, tune in to the testicular cancer podcast on MedicineNet.com: Testicular Cancer Symptoms and Detection .