My story – 2007 proved to be a ‘memorable’, year for me!
I was a 51 year old Scot, I’m not entirely sure when it first appeared, my earliest recollections of what turned out to be Penile cancer was around the beginning of the year, sometime in January/February, I noticed what I thought was a very small blister, about the size of a match head on the end of my glans on my penis. There was no feeling from it other than the slight raised appearance like a burn blister. I’d stopped smoking back in 2001 so it wasn’t as if it was from a cigar ember or similar whilst smoking. Most of the time, it was covered by my foreskin so wasn’t even noticeable.
As a note to anyone reading this, had I sought a diagnosis at that stage, it may have taken a couple of months but may also have avoided the more drastic measures later. I was told that even back in 2007, laser treatment may well have removed all trace of the cancer and prevented what eventually developed.
I was your typical male, nothing really worried me, I’d been in and out of hospitals 2-4 times a year, between fluid in the ears and recurring nasal polyps, since I was 9 years old through into my mid 20’s. A Hernia operation, an appendectomy and a major ear operation filled the intervening years.
I had no fear of the medical profession but the typical male reserve of showing your private parts up close to another guy wasn’t high up on my agenda. There was no pain at all. In the early months, not even any discomfort. Over the next few months the blister increased in size, it split into two sections and then more. Still I ‘ignored’ it, it might go away; we weren’t what you might call particularly adventurous between the sheets, so even my wife wasn’t aware of it for some time. As is often the case, it was she who eventually forced the issue, made the appointment with my GP and I was stuck with attending the appointment. Dropping my trousers and showing what had developed. He took one look, didn’t even touch, and wrote me a referral letter there and then, to the local hospital for an urgent appointment with the urologist. By that time, I had what I learned later, was a common description, something approaching a small cauliflower instead of the glans on the end of my penis. It had started to weep with blood if it was rubbed, which really can’t be avoided inside a pair of Y fronts. I had an appointment for my local hospital within about a week! Who says the NHS is slow? It can respond when it really matters. The urologist in my local hospital arranged a CT scan and recommended that he transfer me to, a German urology surgeon who he explained was his mentor and a specialist in penile cancer, based in one of the Edinburgh hospitals.
My first visit, accompanied by my wife, to the Edinburgh based surgeon was in early July. He didn’t pull any punches, he explained that until relatively recently, Penile cancer resulted in total amputation of the penis. What he and others had been developing was partial removal and some plastic surgery to rebuild the end of the penis to give a resemblance of its former shape. He explained that they couldn’t replace the glans but generally enabled the facility for a modified normal sex life. He explained that he would remove the cancerous end of the penis then a section at a time until there was no longer any trace of cancer in the sections removed. They would then removed a further 20mm, as a safety margin, then start to reform the end of the penis with plastic surgery. This would all be done in one operation. What were my options? I could ignore it till the cancer spread and took the rest of me, or agree to the procedure and hope for the best outcome.
Not feeling that I wanted to exit this life just yet and with my wife’s agreement, surgery it would be.
My first CT scan took place at my local hospital, between my fist appointment with the Edinburgh based specialist and a return visit two weeks following. I learned later that the scan hadn’t shown any trace of the cancer having spread any further within my body.
The Edinburgh specialist had said I would be fast tracked through the system as my cancer was at such an advanced stage. I was admitted for surgery to the Edinburgh hospital in August 2007, the specialist actually apologised that an administrative error had cost me a two week delay, to be perfectly honest, I was overwhelmed at the speed everything had happened since my first GP’s appointment, to get a hospital appointment in under 3 months had never been my experience in the past (other than my appendectomy in 2000).
The Edinburgh surgeon had explained that there was every likelihood that the cancer would spread to my lymph nodes, initially in the groin area but may well reach further down my legs and around the rest of my body. If this occurred there would be further operations to remove the lymph nodes.
My after surgery experience certainly did away with any old qualms I may have had to showing my private parts, The daily ward walk round was always accompanied by a group of medical students, each of them intrigued to see the results of the surgery. Something I myself didn’t see for around 7 days, as my penis was wrapped in a tube for protection but was apparently visible to anyone looking into the end of the tube. From memory there was over 30 stiches involved with the reconstruction work, around two thirds of these were removed after about 7 days when the protective dressings were removed and the rest followed about 3 days later.
I was given an MRI scan which, like the earlier CT scan, didn’t detect any sign of cancer anywhere else in my body. I was taken back into theatre after a couple of weeks for them to do a biopsy on a couple of lymph nodes in the right hand side of my groin, as the surgeon felt they were a little enlarged and wanted a ‘belt and braces’ approach to my aftercare. Both came back as negative for any trace of cancer.
I had ever decreasing frequencies in my follow up examinations over the next 4 years, I had been told it would be 5 years but I never did received an appointment for a final yearly examination, I can only assume the surgeon was satisfied with my recovery.
I’m now 61 years old and have had no recurrences in any form.
One thing I’d say now to any guy out there, DON’T PUT OFF ANY EXAMINATION, IT WON’T GO AWAY!