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Testicular Cancer

Work and testicular cancer

Just over three quarters of the men interviewed here were non-manual workers. Some were only off work for a short while. For example, one was only away from his office for eight days after his orchidectomy. He had a two-week course of radiotherapy, but kept working, leaving the office about 3pm for treatment.

Many other men, however, particularly those who had radiotherapy or chemotherapy, were off work for much longer, even up to a year. One man remembered being cheered when he returned to work after six months. Three men had to retire from work early due to ill health.

 

Says that it was great to return to work after being ill for six months.

Says that it was great to return to work after being ill for six months.

Age at interview: 50
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 33
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So I was off work for the full 6 months and I knew I was getting better because I was just itching to get out and I wanted to get back to work. And it was the greatest day of life I think was going back to work, being me again, and seeing the look on people's faces. Some were shocked, some were cheering, and everybody took it a different way. But it was a good experience, I learned from it and I hope other people learn from it. The treatments have changed so much now but what I had wasn't that bad.
 

In the past, men rarely talked about testicular cancer in the work place. They were reluctant to discuss their illness with colleagues or prospective employers, and some of those who were unemployed after they had been diagnosed with cancer, felt that their illness had hampered their job possibilities.

One of the men interviewed here was diagnosed in 1967. He was sacked from his job as a teacher when the head mistress discovered he had colluded with a sympathetic doctor and hidden the fact that he had had cancer, to pass the medical examination to start his training.

One man had to wait six months for the right to normal company pension benefits. The company withheld this benefit until the doctor wrote a letter to confirm that he was cured. Another man, a university professor, resented the low academic assessment he was given the year of his illness. A manual worker felt that his manager had 'messed him around with his wages' while he was having chemotherapy, and another didn't get paid while he was off work for radiotherapy.

Some men feared discrimination. A manager, diagnosed in 1984, had a fear based on experience that if his colleagues knew that he had had cancer he might be treated differently or that he might lose out on promotion. A managing director, diagnosed in 1991, said nothing to his colleagues about his illness because he was frightened of their reaction, and a manual worker only discussed his illness with close friends.

 

Recalls his fear of jokes in the office.

Recalls his fear of jokes in the office.

Age at interview: 50
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 39
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Thinking back to when you first discovered you had testicular cancer, did you feel you could talk to other people and tell work about it?

No, not at all. I was frightened of the jokes; I really was frightened of the jokes. I was in an environment where it was very high-powered environment and I was, I was concerned and frightened about what was going to be said to me about me, behind my back and all these things. So I kept it to myself, I shared it with the people around me, I shared it with my best friend who is still my best friend and him and his wife and his kids are what I would say is my new family, they are remarkable people. And there is nothing that I can't tell my friend.

 

Explains why he has not told colleagues at work about his illness.

Explains why he has not told colleagues at work about his illness.

Age at interview: 39
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 22
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There are certain people I haven't told. So I've moved companies, moved jobs, I think there's two people in our organisation who do know about my history and only because they have suffered cancer as well. So I try to share with them my feelings, how I coped "Look at me now, big hairy brute." Tried to give them the encouragement to get through. Fortunately they both have. So there's only two people in my current organisation who know that and nobody else knows. It's on my medical records but there's a, you don't share, in my organisation that doesn't get shared out. And I deliberately avoid doing that because I think I might be treated in a different way, in fact I know I would be treated, my experience is I would be treated in a different way. May be you don't get, people think you can't cope or, it gives you a disadvantage in terms of progression may be and things like that. So, and I think it's, I want to be treated normally, right that's me so I don't need to have any special compensation made.

None of the other men, however, hid the nature of their illness from their colleagues or employers. It was suggested that this openness was because testicular cancer is talked about nowadays. Some pointed out that their company would get a bad press if it were not supportive of a man with cancer.

 

Says that he doesn't mind people knowing about his cancer and that testicular cancer is...

Says that he doesn't mind people knowing about his cancer and that testicular cancer is...

Age at interview: 32
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 27
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Yeah everybody in work knew that I was ill because of the time off that I had to take. And I didn't mind people knowing the illness that I had. The, I think in recent years testicular cancer is something which is much more talked about and much more, I don't think normal is the word but it's, certainly it's the most common cancer in men between their late 20s and sort of late 30s. If you're going to get a cancer at that age as a man its more likely going to be testicular cancer. So it is talked about a lot and it is, everybody knows really what's involved and I didn't mind people knowing.

So you didn't worry about having to tell people at work?

No, no that didn't bother me in the slightest and even after I was well on the way to getting better, but my hair hadn't come back and I was putting weight on again, I did I called in to work to see my colleagues and a couple of them didn't recognise me to start off with.

Some men found it quite hard explaining what had happened, because colleagues felt embarrassed, but many found that colleagues were keen to know more about the disease. A few men were worried that they might lose their jobs, but when they told their colleagues about their illness they were soon reassured by the support they received.

 

Recalls that he found it hard telling people about his illness over and over again.

Recalls that he found it hard telling people about his illness over and over again.

Age at interview: 45
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 40
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And quite a few people there knew why I hadn't been to work, and most people seemed to be on tenterhooks. They didn't know whether they should say something, they didn't know whether they should joke about it, should they, so most people said absolutely nothing. And I think I can understand it because I know people from the other side of the coin, do you actually say something, do you not say something, do you joke about it? I think one of the worst things was having to go through the story and explain over and over and over again. I didn't mind telling people and I didn't mind talking about it, I didn't feel like it was a personal failing on my behalf that I had cancer, it wasn't something I'd done or I'd been a bad boy or anything of that nature, but it was just the repetition. And I felt almost like I should have a little videotape or a cassette player and say, "Well just listen to this for 5 minutes and I'll come back when you've heard it because I'm really bored with telling this story." But I did get a lot of support from people and a few people spoke to me seriously about it and they were worried or they'd had you know it was just well, 'How did you find out', sort of thing and they were actually interested. And I think with the lack of publicity regarding testicular cancer I think it's important that people do say something. 
 
 

Recalls that his colleagues and his boss were very supportive.

Recalls that his colleagues and his boss were very supportive.

Age at interview: 40
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 37
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Did you talk about it at work?

I did, I told everybody at work. My boss was very supportive, gave me as much time off as I wanted. He came round to visit me. I had cards from people at work. Initially I was a bit embarrassed by it being testicular cancer you know and having to have one of my testicles removed. Once I told everybody at work I think there was a big sense of 'thank God it wasn't me' actually. I think everybody was very supportive. 

My boss came round. I had get-well cards, once I told my boss that one of the things I could taste was ginger and everything else tasted metallic, he brought round two crates of ginger beer for me. So. Yeah everybody was helpful and supported and they involved me in a couple of team building days and social events, I went to which was quite'

Were you ever worried that you might lose your job or anything like that?

It did cross my mind, but because my boss was so supportive, and I think he was quite well informed as well, I think he realised it was all very short term and once I was back I would be able to continue working as per normal. Once I did go back to work I did have to fill out a form saying that I could carry out my duties as per normal, but that was just a formality, that was just to cover themselves I understand. 

Except for those mentioned above, all the other men felt their employers treated them well; men were given support, sympathy, time off work to recover, full pay, and promotion as expected. Some men were allowed to work from home, which made life easier for them (see also 'Financial concerns').

 

Recalls that his boss was very supportive even though he had only just started a new job.

Recalls that his boss was very supportive even though he had only just started a new job.

Age at interview: 21
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 21
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Work were fantastic about it, I'd only been made permanent a month before and I had to go off, which they're only supposed to pay, they're not even supposed to pay sick pay when you're doing your probation period anyway, which is 3 months, but they did give it me anyway. I think it would've been a little bit harsh to be fair if they hadn't paid me for what you know I was off for.

Were you worried about work?

Yeah I was worried that I was going to lose my job. I know it's silly. I look back now and the people I work with, my boss was superb; my boss above him was superb. They were fantastic; I'd keep in touch just to let them know what was happening. Each step you know I've been through with you today I would let them know what was happening so they were up to date. 

Last reviewed December 2017.

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