For Brendan, 2016 was supposed to be the start of the rest of his new life. He was in remission from testicular cancer, and was due to complete his law degree and start a new career.
The year started, however, with the death of his father from bowel cancer. Just weeks later, Brendan was diagnosed with the return of his own cancer he thought he’d left well behind him. The Sydney law student, aged 27, feels he still hasn’t had the chance to process his father’s death.
“It’s been bad because Dad passed away earlier this year, and then this happened very, very soon after. I’ve despised it, I guess, because I’ve had to focus on this and on me, as opposed to dealing with that. I’ve felt a little bit badly for not having the time to deal with that properly, and having this pile on top of it.
“When I was diagnosed for the second time so soon after, it was the absolute worst. For the first week, I didn’t know what the severity was. Then they figured out what the treatment would be, and they said we will get rid of this, it’s not if.”
Brendan is one of about 740 Australian men diagnosed with this cancer each year. It’s the second most common cancer in young men aged 20 to 40, behind skin cancer, with symptoms including lumps and pain.
For Brendan this is the second time around, with eerie parallels to his first diagnosis.
Seven years ago, aged 20 and two years into a politics degree, he was told he had testicular cancer. For Brendan, treatment was quick and he went into remission. He finished his degree and travelled, heading for Spain and Turkey.
“I was young and I just got through it and didn’t think much about it. But I realise in hindsight how much it affected me at the time. It knocks your confidence. It’s not something you really expect at 20. You think about mortality at an age where most people are thinking about other things.”
When Brendan returned to Sydney, he worked in the travel business for several years before finding direction as a law student. “Life was pretty hectic. I was working four days a week, studying full time, going into the city to socialise, spending time with my girlfriend and family…”
Then 2016 hit.
Although he tried to continue, writing essays from his chemotherapy chair earlier this year, he has now put his law studies on hold until next year. He hasn’t worked since May. “My employer has been really good. They said that I can just walk back into my job when this is over.”
Now, he’s making plans from a new, hard-won perspective. “I’m going to finish my law degree, because I only have six months left to go. I’m going to get a law job. But pretty soon after I finish treatment, I’m going to travel, probably with my girlfriend. Her father just passed away from cancer two months ago. I’m going to show her Europe. You need to live a bit, you need to go and see things.
“Cancer gives you a pretty good perspective on what matters and what doesn’t matter in life.”
April is testicular cancer awareness month. Usually only one testicle is affected. Most testicular cancers start in the germ cells. Germ cell tumours can be divided into two categories, seminoma which usually occurs in men aged between 25 and 50, and non-seminoma which is more common in younger men. Risk factors to look out for are undescended testicles, personal history, family history, HIV and some congenital defects such as hypospadias (an abnormality of the penis).
There is no known link between testicular cancer and injury to the testicles, sporting strains, hot baths, wearing tight clothes, sexual activity or having a vasectomy.
Symptoms include swelling or a lump in the testicle, a feeling of heaviness in the scrotum, change in the size or shape of the testicle, a feeling of unevenness, pain in the lower abdomen, testicle or scrotum, enlargement or tenderness of the breast tissue, back pain or stomach aches.
For more information, visit http://www.mylifehouse.org.au/for-patients/understanding-cancer/cancer-types/testicular/