Andrew 'Bernie' Bernard is a nationally-recognised expert on issues around career teaching and planning in primary and secondary schools. He is the author of the best-selling book The Ladder: Supporting students towards successful futures and confident career choices for the Independent Thinking Press
What Every Schools Needs to Know about Testicular Cancer
By Andrew 'Bernie' Bernard - A Man with a Story to Tell
‘Well’, I stammered by way of explanation, ‘it’s just that one of my testicles is hot, large and heavy, like a microwaved satsuma.’
It was 1988, I was just 21 and my girlfriend of the time, Allie, was in the hall waiting for me as I walked through the door, her best ‘We need to talk’ face on.
My vivid but all-too accurate description of one of my very worrisome private parts reassured her that I was not, in fact, having an affair as she had suspected and, what she did next, literally saved my life.
I had no idea at that point what the issue downstairs was but I did know that, like so many men, a combination of being busy, being embarrassed, thinking it will heal up of its own accord, that it was just because I worked in a factory (!) and, well, being a man, meant I had no immediate intention of seeing a doctor. Allie soon put me right on that count.
What I didn’t know then – but am driven to tell everyone now – is that testicular cancer most commonly affects men aged between 15 and 45, with 47% of men being diagnosed under the age of 35. That’s right. It’s not something just for old men to be thinking about. All adolescent males, and those that care about them, need to know about it, know what to look for and what to do if they find anything untoward.
Once the secret of my testicle was out of the, well, you know, Allie sprang into action and within an hour I was sitting in my GP’s office, trying to talk about anything but the real problem.
‘Actually, there is something else…’ I said, my handle already on the door. Latex gloves, palpitations and a phone call the doctor made from another room quickly followed. It was a bit of a blur.
‘Are you working tomorrow?’ he asked me.
‘Why, do I have to have some tests?’
‘No, the oncologist and I believe you have testicular cancer and we need to operate, tomorrow, before it’s too late.’
That evening I returned home with a badly copied fact-sheet, gave myself a Bic-Brazilian decades before manscaping was even in fashion and went straight to the Stoke Mandeville Hospital. Following a fitful night’s sleep, I and both my testicles were wheeled down to the operating theatre (I’m sure there was a Viz comic character based on me) after which I remember very little, I’m pleased to say, until I and just one of my testicles came back round and headed back to the ward.
Fast forward to now.
With six horrible sessions of chemotherapy over a five month period, a visit or two to Harley Street to store some sperm, just in case, and an eventual all-clear from Christie Hospital in Manchester in 1999, 31 years later I have two amazing daughters (Harley Street not involved) and am happily married to Val who I met a couple of years after my little surgical experience.
What have I learned?
I’m lucky. If I had left it another two or three weeks to go to the doctor, I would not be here to write this.
Every male over the age of 15 needs to check themselves regularly and schools need to encourage them. I find a ‘You’ve got your hands down there anyway…’ approach works well in the Life By the Balls keynotes and workshops I do in schools up and down the country*.
There is plenty of help and guidance online such as www.orchid-cancer.org.uk so spread the word, please.
If there is something not right, never, ever be embarrassed to go to your GP. Ever.
If they offer you a prosthetic testicle, you can always say no. [ITL]
Make a booking, ask a question, panic. All acceptable.
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