Everyone needs good neighbours and this Men’s Health Week (14th – 20th June) two neighbours from Bangor are sharing their own experience of testicular cancer in a bid to get more men across Northern Ireland to check their testicles.
Neighbours Stephen Clegg (48) and Aaron Watson (41) both have first-hand experience of testicular cancer, as Stephen was diagnosed early last year whilst Aaron was diagnosed when he was just 22 years old. After a chance encounter between the two old friends last year, Stephen and Aaron discovered that they had been through very similar experiences and both had a drive to share their story to raise awareness of the disease, which is the most common type of cancer to affect men aged 15 – 49 years old. In a bid to get more men checking their testicles, they have joined forces with Friends of the Cancer Centre and our Talking Balls campaign. Aaron has been a proud ambassador of the campaign for a number of years, sharing his story and encouraging men across Northern Ireland to check their testicles regularly with the help of the charity’s self-check card, which has a step-by-step guide on how to carry out a self-check in just a few minutes. Stephen is now following in Aaron’s footsteps by joining the campaign and sharing his own experience for the first time.
Stephen’s diagnosis came as a shock and he first noticed something wasn’t right when on holiday with his wife last January. Stephen explains:
“My wife Helen and I were in Portugal and we have a tradition that on New Year’s Day, we walk along a local beach which is about 4-5 miles long. However, last year I got about halfway along and had to stop. I was experiencing terrible backache and had to sit down. I took a couple of painkillers and rested that evening, but the dull ache continued. When I got back to Northern Ireland, I found that my right testicle was a bit swollen and made an appointment to see my GP straight away. Initially, my doctor thought it could be a UTI and gave me a course of antibiotics. However, after 2 weeks I didn’t feel any improvement so I went back to my GP and he made a red flag referral to the hospital.”
As a sales executive who travels a lot, Stephen was keen to get checked as soon as he could and chose to have a private consultation where he received an ultrasound scan. During the scan, the consultant found a lump in his testicle that he was very concerned about and told Stephen that he needed surgery to remove his testicle. Tests later confirmed the lump was testicular cancer.
“When you first hear that you have cancer, it’s a bit of a whirlwind. It was such a shock to everyone in the family. I had to deal with my own feelings too and my initial reaction was to start Googling, but very quickly I decided to stop as the information I read online was frightening and inaccurate. Instead, I decided to trust in what my doctors were telling me and follow their advice.”
After surgery Stephen was referred to the Cancer Centre at Belfast City Hospital, where his treatment team discussed chemotherapy with him. However, due to the success of the operation and in part, due to COVID-19, it was decided to monitor Stephen closely instead with regular scans and blood tests.
“The care I’ve received from the team in the Cancer Centre and from Friends of the Cancer Centre has been excellent. The nurses and doctors put me at ease really quickly. Whilst I didn’t receive any additional treatment after surgery, I am being monitored regularly by the team at the Cancer Centre, including Friends of the Cancer Centre’s Testicular Cancer Clinical Nurse Specialist who is on hand if I have any queries or concerns. In February 2021, a year after my surgery, I completed the 100K Your Way Challenge for Friends of the Cancer Centre as I wanted to give something back to this charity and the team in the Cancer Centre in Belfast to say thank you for the support they have given me and my family. ”
Stephen knows how important it is to raise awareness of testicular cancer and he has chosen to share his story in the hope that men will read it and check themselves. He says:
“I used to be one of those men who didn’t talk about my health or anything private, but now I would openly tell any man to check themselves regularly. Even if it’s in the shower, it’s a great way to get used to what’s normal for you and spot any changes as early as possible. For me, the swelling in my testicle and backache were signs that something was wrong, but other men might have different symptoms such as a lump. If there is something wrong, the earlier you catch it, the sooner treatment can start and that can make a huge difference. ”
In a strange coincidence, just a few doors away Aaron was also embarking on a mission to raise awareness of testicular cancer following his own diagnosis when he was 22. Explaining how the two men discovered the connection, Stephen explained:
“A few months after my surgery I was out walking and met an old friend, Aaron Watson. Aaron happened to say he hadn’t seen me out for a while and asked if I was ok. I’m normally a very private person, but I told Aaron about my diagnosis. Aaron’s response was ‘I don’t believe it!’ and he went on to tell me that he’d gone through exactly the same experience. He also talked about the work he has been doing with Friends of the Cancer Centre and its Talking Balls campaign, sharing his story to encourage men to check their testicles. I am really proud to be involved in the campaign and if by sharing our stories we can encourage even one man to check himself, it will be worth it.”
Highlighting the importance of raising awareness of testicular cancer, Aaron Watson said:
“I’m so thankful that I bumped into Stephen that evening and that he chose to tell me about his diagnosis, as it was an opportunity for me to share my experience and show him that he’s not alone. Testicular cancer is a subject that many people are uncomfortable talking about, but it’s so important that we have this conversation. Testicular cancer is very treatable when caught early and it has high survival rates, but the key is early diagnosis. That’s why it’s so important that we encourage men to check themselves, so they can identify any changes as soon as possible. I am incredibly proud to be an ambassador for Friends of the Cancer Centre’s Talking Balls campaign and by sharing my story, and Stephen sharing his, I know we will make a difference to someone out there and hopefully save a life.”
To find out more about Friends of the Cancer Centre’s Talking Balls campaign or to order a self-check card click here