I should be so lucky

23rd February 2007 at 00:00
When Andy Byrne found a lump in his testicle, he feared the worst and ended up with the best - a baby daughter. Jean McLeish reports

Andy Byrne whispers softly to his baby daughter Anna and gently kisses her downy skin as if he can't quite believe his luck. And he can't.

Four years before Anna was born, Andy found a lump. It was identified as cancer on a Friday, and by Monday his left testicle had been removed.

The 43-year-old maths teacher now feels glad to be alive and overjoyed following the birth of his first child. He also wants to share his experience in the hope it may help others.

"I noticed the lump and I thought 'That's not right'. So I went to the GP who said it was likely to be a cyst," says Andy, who teaches at St Machar Academy in Aberdeen.

But the GP took the precaution of sending him for an ultrasound examination at the local outpatients clinic, where the lump was discovered to be malignant.

"It was a classic seminoma at stage 1, which means it's confined to one area -in this case the left testicle. Had it been stage 2, it would have meant the cancer had spread," Andy explains.

The usual step after surgery would be radiotherapy because there is still a one-in-five chance the cancer will spread. But because Andy has Crohn's Disease -a chronic inflammatory bowel disease that can cause abdominal pain, diarrhoea and weight loss - it was decided to monitor him closely with regular scans and X-rays. Doctors did not want to irradiate the lymph nodes in his abdomen because it could have made his Crohn's Disease worse.

To begin with, it meant visits to the cancer outpatients clinic at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary every three months. "All the staff there are absolutely fantastic. It is such a caring place," says Andy. "But any time you go to outpatients, there's part of you thinking this is the time you'll be told it's spread or that it's your turn to get bad news. But, touch wood, praise God, I've been totally clear. Other than the fact I've had my testicle removed, it's as if it never happened.

"I was in the clinic yesterday and got the results of the latest scans, and that's me five years clear. It's a landmark," Andy sighs, rocking eight-month-old Anna gently in his arms.

Testicular cancer is the most common type affecting young men between the ages of 20 and 44. Each year, there are nearly 2,000 new cases in the UK.

However, as Andy goes to prove, it responds particularly well to treatment, especially if diagnosed early.

"It's half humbling and half amazing that I've been so lucky. I am the luckiest man in the world. I deposited some sperm in the sperm bank in case there were problems later, but I never needed to resort to that. I've now got a daughter, born on May 31, four and a half years after I got diagnosed with cancer.

"Ending up with Anna is absolutely beautiful. It's like something was taken away with one hand and a better thing was given with another. So don't let yourself get down: it doesn't necessarily mean it's the end and, in my case, it turned out to be the beginning."

Andy has a simple message for other men: "Check your tackle when you're in the shower or the bath, and look out for any changes in size or texture."

This month, Ucan, the Aberdeen-based charity, is launching a campaign to raise awareness of urological cancers such as testicular and prostate cancers, as well as kidney and bladder cancers, which also affect women.

A fundraising campaign is also underway to raise pound;2 million to fund a specialist information and support centre for patients who have been treated for urological cancers and their families. The charity urges men to get acquainted with their equipment. Knowing what is normal for you could save your life www.ucanhelp.org.uk

What to look out for

Check your testicles monthly for any changes, and tell your GP if you find any of the following:

swelling or enlargement of a testicle

tenderness, hardness or a lump

ache or pain in abdomen, groin or scrotum

anything else unusual

The prostate enlarges as men get older and most men have some symptoms affecting urination, which may not be cancer. You should consult your doctor if you notice any of the following:

having to rush to the toilet to pass urine

passing urine more often andor at night

difficulty starting the flow of urine, or starting and stopping discomfort (pain or burning) while passing urine a feeling of not having emptied the bladder fully dribbling of urine

blood in urine or semen

pain in the back, hips or pelvis

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