Wednesday 28 September 2016

Testicular cancer survivor: 'People bury their heads in the sand when it comes to health and so did I'

After ignoring the signs for so long, David McGlynn was diagnosed with testicular cancer. He has since overcome his health ordeals, and is urging other men to be more vigilant of the disease

Arlene Harris

Published 24/11/2015 | 02:30

David McGlynn who was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Photo: Tom Conachy.
David McGlynn who was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Photo: Tom Conachy.

It's that time of year again when normally doctor-shy men are thinking about their health and taking time to get checked out for conditions particular to their gender.

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Established in 2003 and launched in Ireland in 2008, the Movember campaign has seen thousands of men growing moustaches in order to raise both funds and awareness for male cancers.

David McGlynn knows only too well the dangers of ignoring the symptoms of cancer as in 1994, he refused to acknowledge a swelling in his testes until pain forced him to admit the abnormality and seek help from his doctor.

"When I was 31, I noticed a growth in my right testicle but because it didn't cause me any discomfort, I ignored it at first," he says. "I could see the shape had changed but I left it alone for a good few months until it became very painful and I knew that I had to get something done about it.

"So I went to my GP and after taking one look, he sent me straight to A&E as he said it needed attention immediately."

David, who works in the legal profession, was admitted on the spot and operated on the following morning.

"When I got to the hospital, I was sent for an ultrasound and then the doctor told me he was 99pc certain that I had a cancerous growth, but he wouldn't know for sure until he removed it," he says. "I was quite shocked to say the least as finding out I had cancer and had to have a testicle removed was the last thing I expected.

"After this devastating news, I was kept in and the next day had surgery to remove the testicle which was indeed cancerous and very advanced. This was also very traumatic particularly as my older brother had recently died from colon cancer."

Once the malignant tumour was removed, David (52) underwent a gruelling treatment programme which, unfortunately, caused complications and resulted in him spending the best part of a year in and out of hospital.

"I was very numb after I got the cancer diagnosis, but I am quite pragmatic, so just wanted to get on with the treatment and get the whole thing over and done with as soon as possible," he says.

"But regrettably this didn't happen as I was put on a very strong course of chemotherapy and had an adverse reaction to one of the drugs, which caused me to develop double pneumonia.

"I remember it was just before Christmas 1994 and I was at home after my second chemo but my temperature went sky high and I was rushed back to hospital where they discovered that both of my lungs had collapsed. It was such a serious situation that my family was called to my bedside and I was given the last rites as no-one expected me to pull through."

David, thankfully, made it through, and after several weeks, was discharged from intensive care and eventually put back on a different course of chemotherapy.

"I spent weeks in ICU and was so ill that I went down to seven stone," he says. "I could do nothing for myself. My veins had blown from all the injections I had been given so I had to have ports inserted in order to get medication and fluids into me - I was a total wreck.

"But eventually I came around and slowly my strength came back, so they began to give me the chemotherapy again. They didn't take any chances this time though and I was hospitalised for a few days after every session of chemo, just in case I had a relapse.

"I spent a lot of time in the oncology ward, which was used as a spill-over for A&E, so myself and the other cancer patients regularly had drunks and drug addicts going through our belongings in the middle of the night. It was a horrible experience really."

He did, however, survive the ordeal, and at the end of 1997, three years after diagnosis, David finally finished his treatment. But this was not the end of his suffering.

"I moved to the UK for a few years and in 2002, I was given the all-clear so I was absolutely delighted," he says.

"However, in 2005, I had open heart surgery as the aggressive chemotherapy damaged valves in my heart which had to be replaced. Then, in 2011, I got an infection in one of the new valves, so had another open heart operation. And I also developed secondary tumours in my stomach so had more surgery.

"In total, I ended up having eight major operations and have been opened up from my throat to my pubic bone and several areas in between - it's been a pretty traumatic time for me."

Today, David lives and works in Drogheda, and says that although he has lived to tell the tale, his medical experience has been horrendous and he wouldn't wish it on anyone. So he urges people, particularly men, to keep a close eye on their bodies and seek advice if they notice anything unusual.

"My experience over the past two decades has been pretty awful," he says. "I have gone through so much and I am now able to take just about anything.

"I have been really lucky to have survived an awful lot and it's very fortunate that I went to the doctor when I did, because if I had left it any longer, it might have been too late.

"People bury their heads in the sand when it comes to health and I totally understand why as the reality of finding out you have cancer is terrifying. But it is so important for everyone to check themselves out and ask their doctor if they have a pain or an unusual lump or bump.

"I would advise people not to wait until they reach the typical age-range for a certain disease, because there is always an exception to the rule. Don't ignore something and hope it will go away. Everyone believes that nothing will happen to them, but I am proof that it can and does happen to anyone.

"Boys should start checking themselves out as soon as they hit puberty. If they notice a change in testicle shape or any small lumps in that area, they should ask for help straight away, as talking about it may just save their life."

Naomi Fitzgibbon is the Cancer Nurseline Manager for the Irish Cancer Society. She says while David's experience was pretty hard going, treatment for testicular cancer has a very high success rate and talking about the disease will help men to seek help early.

"As testicular cancer is one of the easiest cancers to treat, very often it can be cured, particularly if detected early," she says.

"The treatment of testicular cancer varies, but the first step is usually surgery. Following that, the type of treatment you get depends on the size, stage and type of the cancer, if it has spread, and your general state of health.

"When it comes to their health, too many men don't talk or take action, and die too young."

* The Movember Foundation is a global men's health movement that advocates for men. Movember and their charity partner, the Irish Cancer Society (ICS) want to help men live happier, healthier and longer lives. To join the movement and sign up for Movember, see movember.com.

* Anyone concerned about cancer can contact the ICS Cancer Nurse Line, freephone 1800 200 700 or see cancer.ie.

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