19 November 2009

My battle with cancer - part three

On the Wednesday of my second week of chemotherapy I had – to coin a phrase – a scrotum scare. Since the surgery I had treated my scrotum with kid gloves, to say the least.


On the Wednesday of my second week of chemotherapy I had – to coin a phrase – a scrotum scare. Since the surgery I had treated my scrotum with kid clothes, to say the least. In the bath I would very gingerly splash water onto it, since I didn’t want it to suffer any more than it already had.

So, to wake up and find that – like James’s giant peach – it had grown prodigiously overnight and was protruding rather dramatically on the right-hand side, caused me a surge of panic. Also, it was very sensitive; well, actually rather sore.

I went to see the urologist. Before I lowered my pants so that he could have a look at the errant body part, he suggested that it may be that my body was rejecting the silicone prosthesis that had been inserted into my scrotum. My spirits sank into my shoes at the thought of what implications this would hold …

Soon I was splayed on the urologist’s examination bed, almost like a chicken awkwardly laying an egg upside down. He said that I had an infection there. A single soluble stitch had been used to attach the prosthesis to the wall of the scrotum. Thus secured it would in some – to me unfathomable – way attach itself permanently there. This would prevent its bobbing aimlessly about. Wow, this process of convalescence really is proving to be educational, I thought to myself.

‘I can see it in there’
At any rate, the infernal soluble stitch was the cause of all the consternation! An infection had set in on the raw patch caused by the stitch. And, since the chemotherapy had ensured that my immune system was at a low ebb, the infection had been able to flourish.

The urologist informed me that he was going to attempt to nudge the stitch out of my scrotum. “I can see it in there,” he told me blithely, brandishing something sharp. I clutched the sides of the bed I was perched upon, and turned my face away and scrunched it up tightly in anticipation of the pain about to follow. Thank goodness I will not have to give birth – ever, I thought to myself.

A few excruciating minutes later the urologist declared the stitch the winner of this particular battle. He hadn’t been able to edge it out. With some force I demanded that he bring me a glass of sugar water. And quickly too. He said that he couldn’t, since the only receptacle he had to hand was the glass holder in which patients deposit urine; then he spotted a cup from which he had earlier had tea, and I was brought back from the brink of fainting by the requested sweetened water.

A course of antibiotics and a salve were prescribed to fight the infection. I also then mentioned to the urologist something which I had noticed for the first time about a month before the diagnosis but which I hadn’t raised before: first my left and then my right nipple had become sensitive. Or, more specifically, a hardening had appeared under both nipples.

Puberty revisited
In fact, this had seemed to me the very type of hardening that boys often get when they hit puberty; in colloquial South African English they are known as “stonies”. The urologist informed me that the tumour created hormonal havoc and that this was a not unusual consequence of it.

The mini-crisis in my scrotum dealt with, I felt well enough during the latter half of the second week of chemo. My scrotum didn’t improve dramatically, though, and I walked about as if I had just ridden a horse over hill and dale for several hours. Also it remained rather sensitive down there.

On the Monday of the third week I completed the course of antibiotics and, after my hour’s worth of chemotherapy, I went to see the urologist, so that he could have a look at my scrotum again. Even though the swelling had not disappeared entirely, it had certainly been reduced.

He was happy with the improvement, noting sagely that it was a very good sign that said body part had regained its former creases. Phew. He prescribed a further course of antibiotics. Since my immune system was already under attack from the chemicals used in therapy, the infection was more difficult to get under control.

I left the doctor’s rooms at about noon, and then a funny thing happened on my way home. I started shivering gently and at home went to lie down, pulling my duvet over me. The shivering increased in intensity and soon I was sweating heavily. I felt utterly rotten.

Sadly, no Strings attached
I had intended attending a concert at the Spier Amphitheatre with a group of friends that evening, but at about 2pm had to call them up and say that, sadly, I was going have to forego the sweet sounds of the Soweto String Quartet. Damn. This was proving to be one of the most unpleasant aspects of the treatment: its fickleness. You really couldn’t predict how you would feel on any given day.

The three hour ‘flu – as I dubbed this sudden sickness – was gone by the late afternoon. I felt fine by 5pm, but thought it would be silly to tempt fate by sitting out in the evening chill.

The following few days I felt strong, but continued taking regular doses of a tonic and taking tablets to boost my immune system. I also ate as healthily as possible: my diet included much fruit and fresh vegetables. Also I drank between six and eight large glasses of water per day, as well as a lot of juice.

On the Wednesday of the third week of chemotherapy I was visiting a friend, when I noticed the next side-effect gradually setting in. My friend asked whether I had lost any hair yet, and with much bravado I plucked at my brush-cut hair, intending to show him the steely fashion in which I was resisting the inevitable side-effects. I looked at my hand and saw there a clump of ten or so hairs. OK, here we go, I thought to myself.

Read more:
My battle with cancer - part one
My battle with cancer - part two


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