By Nikhil D. Patil, Arogya World Fellow
“Movember” is a global advocacy month where men grow mustaches to educate others about important men’s health issues. Focusing on prostate cancer and testicular cancer, the campaign also raises funds for men’s health initiatives including the Movember Foundation, Prostate Cancer Foundation and LIVESTRONG Foundation. In honor of Movember and to advocate for testicular cancer prevention I wanted to share my own story of cancer survivorship. For more information about Movember check out: www.movember.com.
As a graduate of a master’s program in public health, I am accustomed to reading about the epidemiology of cancer: the risk factors, the prevalence and incidence rates, and the effectiveness of various treatments. However, all of those statistics were just numbers to me until last March when I was diagnosed with testicular cancer.
I am a 27 year old Indian American male who enjoys cycling, traveling and photography. This past spring my life consisted of job searching, hanging out with friends, writing my master’s paper and finishing up my graduate degree at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill. I was fairly active, ate well and felt healthy. I never thought that I could be living with a chronic disease. All of that changed in the span of a few hours.
I had been feeling a sharp pain in my groin area for several years. The pain happened so infrequently and never lasted for very long so I didn’t think much about it. I had just gotten into cycling so I attributed the pain to testicle torsion, a twisting of the testicle. However, since last January the sharp pain had occurred more frequently followed by long bouts of dull pain. All of this happened during the cold season when I was barely riding my bike, so in the back of my head warning flags were going off. Perhaps being a public health student constantly exposed to cancer screening messaging heightened my awareness that something might actually be wrong. Yet I chose to do nothing as I had other priorities to worry about.
Then, over spring break I decided to talk to my father, a physician, about it. He referred me to another doctor who did a physical exam and she didn’t find anything wrong, but on a hunch she told me to go and get an ultrasound and do some blood work. Everything happened really fast from there. The ultrasound. The visit to the urologist who told me they found an “abnormal growth” and needed to remove my left testicle. Surgery (a left inguinal orchiectomy) a few days later followed by recovery. It wasn’t until a week and a half after my surgery that my biopsy results came back and I finally received my diagnosis: testicular cancer, stage I seminoma. My whole world came to a standstill.
No one likes to hear those three dreaded words: you have cancer. Cancer is scary. It has the ability to introduce doubt into assumptions one holds to be true, particularly at the age of 27. I was young and didn’t have a family history of cancer, so how could this happen to me? Other questions arose, some serious and others, irrelevant. Am I going to die? Will the treatment make me lose my hair? Is the cancer going to spread? Can I still father children? As if my life wasn’t stressful enough with school and graduation, I now had to tack on the stress of dealing with unanswered questions.
It would have been very easy to let the overwhelming situation shut me down. Instead, I decided to take action and fight.
A family friend who was an oncologist took me on as a patient. She addressed many of my questions and suggested that I go through a short treatment program with chemotherapy. Since we had caught the tumor extremely early, the treatment would be relatively easy. Several weeks later I was on a flight back to Atlanta to receive some drugs that would supposedly wipe out any remaining testicular cancer cells elsewhere in my body. The treatment was quick and I reacted well to the medicine. Before I knew it I was back in school, living a “normal” life.
Throughout the whole experience, I had an incredible support system of family, friends, physicians and professors. I also started seeing a therapist to deal with the psychosocial aspects of being diagnosed with such a dreaded disease. I am still seeing my oncologist for follow-up visits and so far my results have been coming back clean. I’m basically cancer-free and hope to be given a clean bill of health soon. I was even able to finish my coursework and graduate on time.
I often think back to that fateful day in March. What would have happened if I had decided to not talk to my father about the pain in my groin? Or, what would have happened if I had waited any longer than I did to consult a medical professional? My outcome might have been very different. Thankfully, I am doing well and trying to stay positive and healthy.
As a stage I cancer survivor, I feel obligated to share my experience and serve as an advocate for testicular cancer prevention. By sharing my experience, I hope to see more detection and treatment at an early stage like mine. And, it is also the reason I ended up supporting the incredible mission of Arogya World. [ed. note: And we’re lucky to have you!]
Nikhil D. Patil is a recent MPH graduate from the Department of Maternal & Child Health at UNC-Chapel Hill and is currently serving as a Fellow with Arogya World in Atlanta, GA. For the month of November, he will be participating in the Movember mustache challenge to raise awareness about testicular cancer, particularly among Asian Americans. Check out his “Mo Space” page to learn more about men’s health and to donate to the cause. You can also follow him on Twitter: @npatil55