How it affects others
It can be hard for people to know what to say when a friend or colleague tells them he has testicular cancer. Some friends try to lighten the atmosphere with jokes, but others say little, alarmed by the word cancer, and the mistaken belief that people with testicular cancer don't recover, when the great majority actually do.
Describes his friends' reaction to his diagnosis, which surprised him.
These interviews show how important it is for people to take the lead from the man with testicular cancer. For his part he may need to tell people that there are good prospects for a full recovery.
Some men remembered that others, particularly older people, didn't know what to say when they saw them without their hair, because they linked loss of hair with cancer, and cancer with death. At times, both friends and family reacted in unsupportive and inappropriate ways. One man recalled that friends had crossed the road to avoid speaking to him.
Recalls that some of his friends avoided him after he was diagnosed.
I think perhaps if people are made aware of how other people react when you tell people, how they react is a bit strange. Particularly my parents, being old, the word 'cancer' to them means you're gonna die. Younger people have a better understanding I think now because cancer's moved on so much since the initial diagnosis and things like that. But older people when you tell them you've been diagnosed with cancer, they just can't believe it, they think that's the end of it, making, being aware for people's reaction when you tell them as well. Some people are so shocked and some people will say 'Why you?' and 'You don't deserve this' and people talk in very old-fashioned clich's. And totally inappropriate, and it doesn't really help at all, it just upsets you even more.
In fact they worry you and your family even more. Some of the things people say, like 'What you gonna do next year, its not much, its not worth you booking a holiday is it?' Things like that, which just upset you, particularly with your wife as well.
Did you have a lot of reactions like that?
Yeah, friends and family just totally ill-informed I suppose they don't know, you know, they've never encountered any kind of cancer I suppose in our family before, so they're ill-informed and when you tell them they're shocked and they nine times out of then react in a very unsupportive and inappropriate way.
Recalls that some people avoided him because they felt embarrassed.
Yeah it's a strange thing walking down the street sometimes you know you'd see someone coming towards you that you knew and sometimes they'd walk across the other side of the road because they were embarrassed, they didn't know what to say. You know they just, I don't know, they didn't want to talk to you and they didn't want to find out what you were doing you know. Which I found sometimes was a bit strange because I've always talked openly about it you know. I think the more people hear about it and find out about the treatments and that the less people become worried.
Some men's younger friends were able to discuss testicular cancer openly. Friends and colleagues were often sympathetic, and wanted to know more about the symptoms. Perhaps recent improvements in treatment, and the excellent cure rate, combined with recent media attention, have made it easier for people to talk about the subject.
Jokes about testicular cancer were common, and many men we spoke to said that other people's jokes made it easier for them to cope with the illness, particularly when they were in hospital. They suggested that joking helped the conversation and reduced embarrassment. However, one man said that although jokes can be helpful because they 'lighten the situation', they sometimes 'dig a bit too deep'. He suggested that some men with testicular cancer might 'go along with the joke', not wanting to appear hurt, but actually feel upset.
Asserts that laughter helped him recover from his illness.
Not people at work, er at that stage it was just friends and I have a very nice group of friends, all of whom delight in taking the piss and so as a result I remember in the hospital the cards I was getting. And one stands out to this very day, and I still have it and it was (laughs) and it was just simply entitled on the front, 'Sorry for the loss of your loved one' (laughs) and so you can see what sort of friends I had.
How did you feel when you got cards like that?
Oh I laughed, but that's me you see.
Did you genuinely laugh?
Absolutely, genuinely laughed.
So it didn't upset you when you say they took the piss?
Not at all, not at all, because that's the way that I cope really. I like to think I've got a pretty good sense of humour and it has seen me through many, many different situations. And this was certainly one that helped, I mean it really did. When I think of the absolute manic cards I had and people just didn't want to take it seriously. I think they were probably trying to jolly me along a bit in case I was going to dip into some sort of depression but I didn't. And whether it was me or a combination of me and my friends being you know up beat I really don't know but it worked.
So you felt the humour was actually helpful?
Definitely, absolutely definitely, I couldn't take it seriously. I mean in later days you know when I was in a work situation perhaps able to say something to a college when it was appropriate, I mean I wouldn't go around saying "Hello, I've had testicular cancer," but when it came up I would talk about it. And you could see them formulating a question in their minds and a lot of people don't know how to take it when you say "Oh yes I've dealt with cancer." And usually the first question was "Oh where did you have it?" and my glib answer was always "Brighton," (laughs) so, and that always broke the ice. So, and that I still use that line today I know. But it's, you see that's the humour coming through again and that most definitely has helped me and still helps me.
Oh that's really good.
Yeah I think so and I think it's important and I know, I don't want to trivialise and I don't want to take it into a different sphere and I know people deal with things on a different way. Some people might be absolutely horrified that I'm sitting here telling you that I laughed about it but I truly believe that that actually helped, so I need to tell you that I laughed about it.
Asserts that a joke 'lightens' the situation for him and reduces his friends'' embarrassment.
Oh you get used to it you know it's all part of every day life isn't it. I mean everyone always makes jokes about something some time or other, er you just get used to it. It doesn't worry me at all.
What's a typical joke can you remember any of them?
Well ping pong balls got mentioned. As I play a lot of tennis everyone kept yelling, "New balls please," as I walked into the office.
Oh no. So that doesn't really worry you?
No, no you know it's, as long as it's you know everyone does it in the right sort of way it doesn't worry me. You know they're being friendly about it and it's a way of lightening it, but I think for them as well as me. It just lightens the whole thing up for them. Because when you tell, first tell people they're all, they get slightly embarrassed, some people when you first tell them you've got cancer of any sort, and they don't quite know how to react, some people. Some people react very well, they're very positive but others kind of yeah they shy away from it and they don't quite know how to speak to you, you know.
Some men made jokes themselves about testicular cancer, partly because they found joking released tension and helped them cope with the situation. However, one man, diagnosed in the 1980's, said that other people were surprised when he joked about his condition. They assumed he was dying and found his joking quite upsetting.
Explains that he found humour in the office helpful.
Yeah, I find that if you're going to deal with anything the best way to deal with it is to talk about it. There are, and not sort of bottle it up and take it too seriously, if you go 'oh dreadful, I'm not going to do this, oh it's terrible, I can't talk about this.'
So the humour and the jokes has been helpful rather than ?
Absolutely, absolutely. I mean it's probably not everyone's cup of tea but certainly for me I found that er being totally open about it and just turning the entire episode into one grand joke in various places you know. And not to extremes, to excess but certainly there's been, someone will make a remark which might have a sort of a double entendre if you like with relation to my particular condition and rather than get uptight about it I just crack up (laughs). And I guess the rest of them are cracking up as well. Okay there's this one guy who usually goes "Oh no!" but that just makes it even better (laughs).
And as I say I enjoy a good joke as much as anybody else so hey if I'm the butt of it well what the hell (laughs), I'll take the mickey out of myself as much as I'll take the mickey out of anyone else, I think you have to. Basically you can't go through life without a sense of humour.
Recalls that his colleagues thought he was going to die.
Men's reactions to others comments depended on the context in which they were made. One man said that when he heard he was going to have chemotherapy he resented it when others made light of the situation or said something optimistic. He wanted other people to listen to him and to acknowledge that chemotherapy was going to be tough.
Believes that it is better if others acknowledge that treatment may be tough or unpleasant.
I felt sometimes when people were making light of it, I was like there's no need, I want you to go, "Jesus that's heavy".
I suppose everybody is different, everyone needs different ways, but I definitely found that people trying to say it was going to be alright didn't [help]. And one person, one mate of mine would just sit there and all he said was "Jesus, I just, I don't know mate, that's going to be a nightmare." And I was like, it just felt good to have'
Somebody to acknowledge how you felt?
Yeah someone to acknowledge how I felt, who didn't pretend to know anything.
I knew that I could get a hat; I knew my hair would grow back [after chemotherapy]. What felt better was someone looking at me just going, "Jesus mate you've got your work cut out for you, you know I don't know what it's going to be like but I bet it's going to be a bloody nightmare."
You know I needed someone to, and to acknowledge it was going to be tough and just to listen. But it was quite hard to find, you know you pretty much found the minute you spoke, and I understand why, I'd probably be the same, but people automatically thought that you were looking for some sort of an answer and would try and say something optimistic.
I always got a little bit angry so I stopped talking about it and I found that was better you know.
Many of these issues applied to family members as well as friends (see 'How it affects family relationships'). However, there are additional problems and also great opportunities for support within families.
Recalls that his illness pulled the family together.
I think it actually pulled us all together again. Geographically we're actually scattered to the four winds. My father is reasonably close but my two sisters are sort of you know a couple of hours drive away each. And then there's sort of my cousins and aunts that uncles and aunts. Actually I've had more contact with them as a result of this than I've had for years. It's sort of faded away again now but (laughs) I really ought to get round to sort of you know trying to keep in touch again. I think they were incredibly supportive they, because this wasn't the first time we'd had cancer in the family I think part of, they'd been through some of it before anyway and they just suddenly sprang up from nowhere. I had cards coming through my letterbox like it was going out of fashion (laughs). I think the postman was certainly earning his money.
Last reviewed December 2017.
Last updated December 2017.