Aidan Hunter has always been in good shape, enjoyed keeping fit and taking part in adrenalin-filled activities. So when he was travelling Europe in 2017, he challenged himself to jumping off an 80ft bridge. While he didn’t suffer any pain afterwards, he did experience some testicular swelling which he put down to a side effect of the jump.
owever, when the symptoms were the same a couple of weeks later, he made an appointment to see his GP as soon as he returned to Ireland. “In August 2017, I had been on a trip around Europe and when I was in Bosnia, I jumped off a very high bridge in Mostar,” says the 27-year-old. “I didn’t hurt myself or feel any pain but not long afterwards, I noticed that my testicle was getting bigger and harder in a way that I knew wasn’t normal.
“I initially put it down to an impact of the jump, but I did have a few sinister thoughts and cancer went through my mind. I tried to ignore it, but when the situation didn’t improve after a couple of weeks, alarm bells started to go off and I rang home to make an appointment with my doctor for when I returned.”
The Donegal man returned home on a Monday and had an appointment with the doctor the following day. He wasn’t really expecting to be told any bad news, but his GP insisted that he couldn’t leave the surgery until he had been referred for further tests.
“I met with a consultant a week later, who told me that, in his opinion, there was a tumour there which needed to be removed as quickly as possible,” he says. “I was naturally shocked but was also kind of relieved that I had a diagnosis. In fact, the week before, I had been at a wedding and found that very hard as I had to pretend to everyone that I was fine, when really, I was worrying about the upcoming appointment and what they would find.
“Once I knew what was wrong, I could get things straight in my mind and was glad that a plan was being put into action. There were a lot of things I needed to do and tests I needed to have so I felt like I was making progress, which is a lot easier to handle. I really feel that not knowing is worse than knowing because when you have a diagnosis, you can prepare and get on with things.”
Within weeks, Aidan, who used to own a gym, was referred to a clinic in Dublin to put some sperm into storage in case of fertility issues later in life. He then went on to have surgery to remove the tumour before undergoing an agonising wait to see if he needed further treatment.
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“After I had the operation, I was rescanned and had bloods taken but then I had to wait for six weeks to see if I would need chemotherapy,” he says. “They had to look at the tumour markers to see if they had reduced and once they were sure they had, they told me that I didn’t need chemo at that time. But they said they would keep monitoring me as there was a 50/50 chance the cancer would return within a year, and even after that, the chances were still high, but they would decline in time.
“The next time I went back for a test, I was told that there seemed to be a few growths and I should prepare for cancer to return. This was not good news, but I managed to get through months without any issues, then I sold my gym and moved to Vienna in Austria to start a new chapter in my life.”
But in October 2019, Aidan, who had been working as a barista, returned to Ireland for a holiday. During that time, he went for a routine scan and was devastated to be told that the cancer had returned, but this time it had metastasised in his lungs.
“Before I had come home, I had some blood tests done in Vienna and everything showed up fine so I was sure there wouldn’t be anything wrong, but I went for the scan anyway,” he says. “It showed up a little smudge on my left lung which the consultant said he wasn’t happy about and further tests revealed three areas in my lung which turned out to be the cancer which had started in the testicles and had found a second home.
“Of course, this news was very shocking, even though I had been told to be prepared for the cancer to return. However, similar to the first time, after the initial bad news, I was then kept busy and occupied with different tests and procedures, so it was better to be actually doing something. I had been given the option to go back to Vienna for treatment, but I made the decision to stay here and two weeks later started my first of three cycles of chemotherapy.”
Aidan underwent a very tough programme of treatment which lasted until January 2020 and is currently having regular check-ups to ensure the cancer has been eradicated. “As far as chemo goes, they threw the kitchen sink at me as they said they would make it as strong as possible and give as much as I could take based on age, height and weight,” he says.
“It was very intense and was divided up into three cycles of 21 days. I would go in on a Sunday night, start treatment the next day and get out the following Saturday with a top-up the following Tuesday and the one after that, before starting the cycle again. I had 63 days of it altogether and was in hospital for Christmas week, during which there was an influenza outbreak so no one could visit me as my white blood cells were so low.
“That was a very hard time and I was in a room on my own for a full week just staring at the four walls. I saw nobody apart from the nurse who was giving me the medication. It was a horrific week and I was going out of my mind — at one stage I felt as if I was in a mental institution rather than a hospital.
“I finished it all on January 6, 2020, and doctors were happy that the three cycles had done what they wanted them to do. I had reacted well and although they are pretty confident that I will be cured, they don’t give you the all-clear for a few years. So for now, it is a matter of regular surveillance and bloods and scans every three months.”
Knowing your body, not being afraid to seek advice and being in good shape physically are some of the reasons Aidan believes he has managed to come through two diagnoses of cancer, and he would advise others to be aware of their bodies and visit their GP if they have any concerns at all.
“My background has always been in fitness and I think this acted like a trick up my sleeve in the fight against cancer,” he says. “It definitely stood to me, both mentally and physically as I was in fairly good shape beforehand, so I was able to deal with things better. Also, I have a very good support system with friends and family and I’m emotionally quite strong, so this was also a bonus.
“Right from the start when I was first diagnosed, I took the approach that if I wasn’t feeling well, I would let people know. I said no to meeting people if I was having a bad day and often said that I needed to be left alone. I think it’s important to be able to do this and most of the people around me understood that.
“My advice to others would be that if they think something is wrong, get it checked sooner rather than later. It may be a terrible disease, it may be an illness that isn’t so bad, or if they are lucky, it might be nothing at all. But until it is checked out, they will be dealing with ghosts and demons.
“Sometimes people leave things until they are very far down the road and by the time they get diagnosed, everything is much harder — so the sooner, you get things checked, the sooner you can start sorting the problem and living your life.”
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Testicular cancer affects about 180 men in Ireland every year. Symptoms include:
⬤ A painless lump or swelling in a testicle.
⬤ Pain or discomfort in a testicle or in the scrotum.
⬤ An enlarged testicle or a change in the way it feels.
⬤ A heavy feeling in the scrotum.
⬤ Testicular cancer is more common in men with a testicle that did not descend, or which descended sometime after birth.
⬤ You are slightly more at risk if you have had testicular cancer in the past.
⬤ You are more at risk if your father or brother had the disease.
⬤ If you have fertility problems, you have a small risk of testicular cancer. But a vasectomy does not increase your risk of developing it.
⬤ If you had a rare complication of mumps called mumps orchitis, your risk increases.
⬤ If you are white skinned, you have a higher chance of getting testicular cancer than African-Caribbean or Asian men.
Health & Living