'Have the balls to ask for help'

Ryan Walshe discovered he had testicular cancer when watching TV

I noticed something was wrong after I watched Embarrassing Bodies on Channel 4. There was a piece about testicular cancer. When I did a self-examination, I noticed that one of testicles was completely hard.

I went to the doctor the next day. I was worried about getting it checked but I knew I had to go and get over my embarrassment as the doctors see things like this every day. It’s just like them looking at your arm or your knee, it’s just another part of the body.

The doctor said that he couldn’t feel a lump, but agreed to send me to the consultant on my word. The following week, I was at the urologist.

‘Any pain?’ he asked.

‘No.’

I was sent for an ultrasound and told I had testicular cancer. ‘You’re coming in for surgery in two days’ time.’

It was a very surreal. Crazy. I was dazed and also very angry, embarrassed to live as a young man with only one testicle - but I knew I had two options and this one had the best outcome. I cannot lie; I was also terrified of dying and things were going through my mind. Why has this happened to me? What did I do to deserve this? I was 20 at the time and I thought I was indestructible. I didn’t yet realise the seriousness.

Ticking timebomb

Friday, I had surgery to remove my right testicle. It was all happening so fast. I was told my tumour was three weeks from taking my life. I was walking towards death. I had a time bomb ticking inside my scrotum. Looking back, I am glad the process was so rapid.

The surgery went well. I didn't have any swelling. It was only painful to laugh, cough, sneeze, flex the abdominal muscles, and lift my legs. But apart from that …

With the cancerous testicle gone I thought that was it, but the cancer had spread to my back. My cancer doctor sent me to a fertility clinic to store my sperm before starting treatment.

I had three cycles of chemotherapy, split into 15 sessions to remove the bits in my back. It made me very tired, exhausted. I lost hair my first treatment. This didn’t bother me. I would rather be bald then lose my life. And I did nearly die. I was nearly in a coma three times because my white blood cells were completely zero. I had no immune system due to my treatment.

I have embraced the clarity that cancer has given me. We all take life and things for granted and an experience like this just seems to help you appreciate life, feelings and experiences that we sometimes forget about. The toughest part was definitely the wait. There is always a wait involved when tests are done and that is the hardest thing mentally.

My views on cancer they have changed big time. I use to associate it with death and baldness and extreme sickness but now, I have seen so many survivors. I’ve grown as a person and now take nothing in life for granted.

In terms of my physical self, I like to think I look the same as prior to my cancer experience but I know this is not true. I have an 8cm scar on my stomach and I’m sure the chemotherapy has permanently affected my body and my stamina. The reason as to why I got cancer, I have yet to find. Sometimes I think to myself that the cell just divided incorrectly and it is as simple as that.

Embarrassment can kill

I have been cancer free for a 1 year and 8 months now. When my treatment was finished I felt like I was one of the lucky ones. This made me feel an increased sense of responsibility to give something back and I don’t want to ever lose that.

I wanted to share more than just the physical, medical side of the story. I wanted to show that cancer is not what you think. I founded a project called Talking Testicles with my friend and mentor Glen Poole.

The idea behind this project is to provide an inspirational tool to motivate people to self-check. Our educational programme provides talks within schools with silicone TSE Model (one lump in each testicle) and leaflets to raise awareness about the disease. As I discovered, a lack of knowledge combined with embarrassment can allow it to go unnoticed until it’s too late.

I hope my talks help the students to recognise the signs and symptoms. if we save just one person from going through what I did that’s a success. I would love to see every young man thinking its OK to check myself once a month; I’m sure one day we will get there.

After all, it's pretty simple, If you feel a lump, don’t be shy. Have your doctor check it out. Early detection is the key to survival.

This article reflects the experience of the individual. It is not health information from the MHF under the terms of the NHS England Information Standard. It was last updated in 2011.

Page originally created in December 2011.