Originally published in Issue 2 2005 icon
I Beat Testicular Cancer 11 Years Ago and Started a Family
Scott Robinson was 28, and planning a future with his fiancee, Wendy, when he was diagnosed with cancer, and had to have a testicle removed. Just four months later, after a full recovery, a scan revealed a golf-ball-size tumour in the lymph glands around his stomach. Still reeling from the setback, the design engineer had sperm frozen before embarking on five "gruelling" three-week cycles of chemotherapy.
Two years after being given the all-clear Scott was planning his wedding again, when Wendy discovered they had something else to celebrate - she was pregnant! Now 39, the keen marathon runner and proud father of Sophie, aged seven, and Daniel, three, is happy to share his inspirational story with icon readers.
"I could see Wendy waving from the crowd as I reached the 23-mile point in Central Park, last November. I was feeling very weak by then, but a year of training had got me that far, in the New York Marathon, so I ran on another three miles to cross the finishing line and get my medal. It was, without a doubt, the best day of my life!
I was running in aid of Macmillan Cancer Relief and, over the years, have raised about 9,000 to help people with cancer. As I love running, it's my way of saying thanks for all the support Macmillan gave to my family when I had testicular cancer 11 years ago.
Running the New York Marathon was the best day of my life
I wasn't very aware of checking for lumps at that time, but I can remember sitting in the bath one day and noticing a swelling at the bottom of one of my testicles. I was living at home then, July 1994, and I mentioned it to my mum and said I was going to go to the doctor within the week to get it checked out. Even though it wasn't at all painful, I didn't want to mess around.
When I mentioned it to one of the guys at work he said straight away, 'Testicular cancer. The most common form of cancer in younger men.' That scared me, so when the doctor looked at the swelling and put me on a course of antibiotics, I didn't mention cancer. I'm one of those that goes along with doctors rather than persuading them it's something I don't want it to be.
A few weeks later the swelling had got bigger, but the doctor just gave me some more antibiotics. He thought it was some kind of infection. After another three or four weeks, I'd been playing football for my local team, Cheadle FC, and had to come off because I was in pain. The swelling was so big that I had to call the emergency doctor out that night.
I can still remember the whites of his eyes going twice the size when he saw the lump.
I also showed him my nipples, which were sore and had some bruising around them, (I know now that this is a tell-tale sign of cancer, from the tumour marker side of things). The doctor quickly went into my mother's bedroom, to use the phone, and shut the door behind him. I later found out he was phoning the hospital to get me in as soon as possible. The next day my dad took me to Stepping Hill Hospital in Stockport, and I was there for five days.
They did blood tests, gave me some more antibiotics - but the worst bit was when the chief consultant, Mr O'Reilly, came in to look at me in front of a group of students. "Oh that's a fair size," he said, as he put on his rubber gloves and prodded around down below. That was terrible. I was pretty scared during those days in hospital on my own. All kinds of things were running through my mind. I talked to people about the lump being caused by an infection, or a twisted vein in the testicle… anything, really, rather than facing up to it being cancer.
I had an ultrasound scan on the third day, and the guy who did it shut the door behind him and was on the phone for about half an hour. There was a lot of that sort ofthing going on, but no one confirmed anything to me. I found out a couple of weeks later that one night when my mum, dad, brother and Wendy were leaving the ward a nurse had said to them, 'Oh, if it's cancer, he'll have surgery and chemotherapy'.
She was right, but unaware of the upset that comment would cause. That was the first time it had been mentioned to them - even though it was a throwaway remark. Mum went away crying that night. I came out of hospital and had to wait a week before going back, mid-September, for the results of all the tests. I was with my mum and dad when the surgeon took us into a sideroom and told us, "Unfortunately it's cancer." I was standing up against the side of the bed, and my dad said later that my face suddenly went completely grey. The surgeon carried on explaining that it was a malignant tumour and he was going to operate and remove a testicle. 'Remove a testicle!' Those words made me more afraid than the word 'cancer'. My mum and dad already knew, but I was in shock - completely numb. For some reason, though, I never worried that I was going to die. All the way through I never worried about that, which is a credit to all the people who took care of me and my family.
We went off to have a drink and I phoned Wendy at work and told her. Wendy's normally very strong and solid, in worrying situations, and she reassured me I'd be all right.
At that time, the son of one of my mum's friends had had testicular cancer and hadn't needed chemo, so we were able to get some information about it from him. He'd had his op and it was all 'done and dusted', so that, plus I'd also heard that on average it's 96 per cent curable, at the point I was at, boosted my confidence. The next day I thought, 'Well, I'll just carry on as normal.'
My operation was scheduled for about a fortnight's time, October 1994, but the lump got bigger and bigger and,after a week, it was probably about the size of two snooker balls. I could only wear track bottoms, and was walking around holding my underwear up to support the lump. It was horrendous! The pain gradually crept up on me until, by the end of one Sunday, it was so bad I had to get the emergency doctor out again. I was literally rolling around on the floor in agony, and he gave me a heroin injection. A few seconds later I was loving everyone and right as rain. Another doctor came in the middle of the night to give me some morphine to tide me over until I went to hospital.
They operated the next day and, by this stage, I as just thinking, 'Hurry up and get this over with!' The operation was very quick, about half an hour, and I've got a five-inch scar in the groin area. They took the testicle and lump out. It was very heavy and as big as a grapefruit! I remember the surgeon coming to see me afterwards and me saying something silly like, 'Did you do proper stitching?' He joked back, 'No, we just used any old length of cord.' Actually the stitches disintegrated, and I went home the next day to rest. For the first couple of weeks I remember having to bring my knee up to my chin if I wanted to cough, to try to relieve the pain from the scar.
Two weeks later I was told the op had gone well and the cancer hadn't spread - as far as they could see. I was referred to The Christie Hospital so that they could keep an eye on my tumour markers. I went for my first appointment in early December and had some blood tests done. When I went back a week later I saw a doctor who couldn't speak English very well. Neither my mum nor I could really understand what he was saying. I had a CT scan, and in January I saw a consultant, Dr Wilkinson, who Dad knew from the golf club where he worked. He put things really clearly. 'I'm afraid the cancer has spread, and we are going to start you on chemotherapy on February 14 to eliminate any further chance of spreading.' I was told there was a golf-ball-size tumour in the lymph glands around my stomach.
A couple of days earlier I'd been at work and my nipples had felt sore. I'd remembered thinking , 'I've got cancer again', but it was still a major blow to be told it had spread. My confidence was really low. Wendy and I had been engaged more than a year by then and she helped me through it. I was advised to give a sperm sample, before the chemotherapy, 'Just in case…' I was told. At that stage I wasn't thinking about having children - or that there was probably a good chance of my becoming infertile - I was just getting by day to day.
I remember giving Wendy a Valentine's present, a little Irish ceramic teddy bear, in hospital just my chemotherapy started. I had three days on the chemo drip and then came home. The following week I went to the day centre, for a two-hour drip, and did that again on the third week, before starting back at the hospital for another three-week cycle.
I played football after the first cycle, when I was still feeling up to it, but the drugs were pretty horrendous. Some people get infections, because the chemo affects their immune system. I didn't get colds, I was just sick the whole time and lost my hair. By the third cycle I couldn't talk to anyone - I didn't have the energy. I was hardly able to eat at all. It got to the point where I felt so bad that even if I was dying I wouldn't have worried about it, I was just so weak.
Music helped me forget it for a while. I used to have my personal CD and headphones in hospital, and would put an Oasis CD on when I woke up in the middle of the night. My family and Wendy came in to see me a lot, which also helped.
After I got the all-clear I gave my dad a big hug - we hadn't hugged like that since I was little
I went to see the consultant, with my dad, after the fourth cycle, expecting to be signed off. But he said that, even though they thought all the cancer had gone, my tumour markers weren't quite at the required level so I would need one last three-week cycle.
That was a big blow. I didn't think I had it in me to face another dose, but I did it and it was all over by the end of May 1995. Wendy took me home that last day and I remember flinging my arms around my mum crying out that I didn't want any more chemo.
Before I'd started it, I used to go running every day. It was a big thing for me, so I tried to run four days after the treatment finished. Big mistake. I couldn't even run half a mile, my ears were still ringing from the side effects. I realised the effect the drugs had had on me and knew I had to give myself a chance to get fit again.
It was my 29th birthday 10 days after coming home, and Wendy had set up a party for me at a local Indian restaurant, with loads of friends, which was nice. Two days later I had to go back to see Mr Wilkinson to find out how all the treatment had gone. I must admit I was nervous, because whenever I tended to see him it was always bad news. My mum and dad came with me, and Sheila, the Macmillan nurse, was waiting with us . She had a sneaky look in my big green file and gave my mum a reassuring smile, which was nice.
All my memories of Macmillan have been like that, gentle support and care. When Mr Wilkinson told me I was clear of cancer we all looked at each other in relief. But it wasn't until I was walking through the front door of The Christie that the emotion got to me, and I gave my dad a big hug. We hadn't hugged like that since I was little, so it was a really nice moment.
I had a scan two weeks later, which was fine, and I have been ever since. I go for an annual check-up every January now. In July 1997, Wendy and I were planning our wedding for the following year when we found out she was pregnant. It wasn't planned at all and a bit of a shock at first, but after I'd gone for a run to think about it (what I tend to do with anything stressful) I was very pleased. Wanting children and the fact that that may be a problem because of the treatment I'd had, was in the back of my mind, but I'd always thought, 'Well, we'll cross that bridge when we come to it,' and we didn't need to now. It had happened anyway. I think Wendy was more worried about it all then I was, so we were both very pleased that we didn't need to use the frozen sperm. We decided to bring our wedding forward to November 1997.
I rang Mum to tell her about the baby and she thought it was lovely we had something to celebrate at last because, sadly, my dad had died the year before. It's such a shame he's not been here to see his grandchildren, first Sophie and then Daniel, born. I was very frightened when Wendy was in labour, because Sophie's heart kept stopping, but as soon as she was born I leant over and saw her open her eyes for the very first time. That was really special.
I feel complete now, with Wendy and our two children, and like to take on new challenges. I finished last year's New York Marathon in the top 20 per cent, in 3hours 53mins and 11secs, and have decided to run it again this year. I'm very happy with the way things are going for all of us right now. Since having cancer, I count my blessings, don't take anything for granted and don't get stressed over little things.
If there's anyone reading this who is about to have surgery or chemotherapy, I would say, that when your treatment is over, try to enjoy and live an active life, and to appreciate your loved ones and friends.
If you do all that, there'll always be a big positive around the corner for you."
Macmillan Cancerline: 0808 808 2020 or log onto www.macmillan.org.uk.