January 2nd, 2020

Glenn Parrish's cancer journey

"Having to tell everyone that I had cancer was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do."
Real Stories | Testicular Cancer | In the Barber Chair

I grew up in a strict environment, where there was a strong focus on my brothers and I being strong and masculine and a grin and bare it approach. That may have influenced my view of what a guy should look like when I was younger, even though I didn’t fit that ideal at the time.

It was only as an adult when I started going to the gym and my physique began to change. Thinking about that, I wonder if that version of masculinity plays a part in some men’s reluctance to pick up the phone and talk when they need to or to see a doctor. Perhaps that’s why I didn’t seek help when I needed to.

It’s now a year since I was diagnosed with cancer. In late May last year, I become aware of a pain in my right testicle. At first, I thought that I’d overdone it at the gym, yet despite the symptoms, I didn’t do anything about it at the time.

A few weeks later I was feeling very unwell and I noticed that I was losing hair from my moustache and beard, then I begun to think it was something more serious.  I did check my testicles and couldn’t find or feel a lump and dismissed it again.

As the weeks went by the pain grew and -after getting pain down my right leg, my instinct told me that I had cancer and it was at this time that I confided in my partner and a close friend about my fears. Although I didn’t want to hear the words ‘Cancer’ I realized I had to do something.

In early July, I went for a routine asthma appointment with the practice nurse at my GP surgery and mentioned the pain in my testicle. We talked about my age and lifestyle and that I was perhaps too old to get testicular cancer, so the gym related trauma seemed again to be the most obvious cause of the pain.  I did use that as an excuse not to pursue it any further, until a few weeks later the pain became pretty unbearable and I finally made an appointment with my GP.

After seeing my GP (who was amazing) she examined me and expressed her immediate concern. Things moved very quickly indeed after that. Early August, I was diagnosed with testicular cancer and was scheduled to have surgery the following week.

"Having to tell my partner, my mom and closest friends that I had cancer was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I felt that I had let them down in some way."

In terms of the surgery, unfortunately what should have been a straightforward procedure turned out to be a bit more complicated. I suffered a haemorrhage and developed a post-operative infection, which took some time to recover from. This derailed me and I couldn’t really deal with the initial cancer diagnosis, as at that time my body was fighting the infection.  Although I had some incredible support from my partner, family and friends, it was a very difficult time.

Things did get better and my cancer was down graded from stage 2 high risk to stage 1 high risk. After almost 2 months, and ongoing monitoring by my oncologist the tumour markers were down and I was told that I only needed one cycle of chemotherapy, rather than the six cycles I’d been told to expect.

The chemotherapy did make me feel pretty sick, but you get through it and somehow deal with it and accept it - that’s a small price to pay for getting better. One Sunday morning, a few weeks after starting chemo, I went to wash my face and I noticed that my moustache and beard had come away. This was my toughest time, as now the cancer, or the treatment, would be visible to everyone and this came as a huge shock. Thankfully, my partner was there at that moment.

I was given the initial clear late November 2018 and although I kept positive and up beat, having cancer does make you think about your life and priorities.  Looking back now, this experience has made me less anxious as a person and more grounded and more focused. That might sound strange but that’s how I feel.

From the beginning I tried to cope with the diagnosis and treatment as best as I could. I did this by eating well (when I had an appetite), taking supplements (I sought advice from a nutritionist), doing mild exercise, and getting outdoors (even if for a just few steps). All of these things helped me to take control as far as I could, I was not going let cancer dictate my life and it didn’t.

There were other factors about testicular cancer, which I had not prepared for. Such as low testosterone, this can make you feel tired, depressed and anxious. I did seek medical help when the symptoms of low testosterone appeared,  but it is important to realize (through the mental fog) what those symptoms are.

Thankfully, I wasn’t alone in my journey but mentally having cancer is an incredibly lonely experience and ultimately it is you who have to come to terms with it.  I would say to other men and anyone facing or dealing with cancer,  don’t be fooled by the stereotypes or age, listen to your instinct and body and if you are unsure seek help and guidance from the onset. It could save your life or it could mean reduced treatment.