To Haig, you saw and conquered. You are my hero.
My partner Haig felt a lump in his right testicle in April 2017. We were sat in my bedroom and Haig could feel something unusual – a dull ache and a hard lump but I couldn't feel a thing. He booked a doctor's appointment for the next day. I was pretty nonchalant about the whole thing, I thought everyone has aches and pains and it didn’t cross my mind that it would be anything serious.
Haig had an exam by a doctor in our local GP surgery who couldn't feel anything either, not leaving anything to chance he referred Haig to a urologist at Bedford Hospital. The consultant was the third person to check and not feel a lump so he booked Haig in for an ultrasound to be sure.
On 13th April 2017 I was at home getting ready for work when Haig text me to say he has a tumour in his right testicle and he needs surgery to have the whole testicle removed. I started shaking and handed my phone to my mum so she could read the message and just cried. When you get news like this it's so unusual for your brain to comprehend you don't know how to react. I look back and I think why did I go into work that day? Haig was calm about everything, I was trying to mirror him but inside I was freaking out. I went to see him at home that day and he hugged me as I held back the tears. The strange thing is all the new emotions and thoughts you have in a situation like this. I remember trying my hardest not to cry and thinking 'you can't cry right now, you have to be strong for him, he shouldn’t have to comfort you' I felt annoyed at myself for being so emotional. I tried to tell him he should have the day off work and go and see his mum but he was adamant he wanted to go to work. What could I do? Sit at home by myself and cry? I went in too which was a big mistake, I couldn't concentrate and felt on the verge of tears all the time so I lasted about 2 hours and went home.
When Haig was diagnosed just before bank holiday, we did what all people who get terrible news do – handled it head on and... escaped to the country. We spent 3 nights in a little cottage in Wales with no internet or signal and only each other to keep company. We listened to Fleetwood Mac on repeat and danced in the kitchen. We cried to Silver Springs and got drunk. It was our sanctuary.
Haig had the surgery on 18th April 2017 and chose to have an aesthetic testicle inserted. I was extremely anxious of rolling over and hurting him in the night. I fussed around him which irritated him. Haig is an independent person and suddenly felt infantilised.
One of the hardest things about having testicular cancer for men is the thought of physically losing a body part, it’s a part of their man hood and contributes to their self-esteem. The only important thing for me was Haig being cured and the cancer not spreading, for Haig he thought he would look and feel different and that was unsettling.
It was confirmed that Haig needed chemotherapy as a precaution to swoop up any cancer cells that were left. One of the most striking characteristics about Haig is his beautiful bouncy hair. It’s so thick and curly it grows up instead of down - defying gravity. When the doctor said it was to be expected that he would lose his locks it was a shock and one of the hardest things to come to terms with.
Most people know what can happen when someone has chemotherapy - they can be sick, tired and lose their hair but no one prepares you for the little details. I remember waking up to Haig next to me and throughout the night some of his hair had fallen out and there were pieces of hair all over his pillow. That was emotional. It was a physical reminder of what was happening. When a cancer patient sleeps (if they sleep) they have a few hours peace from the suffering they're enduring then they wake up to find the nightmare begins again.
Watching the person you love most suffer is truly one of the most disturbing things one can experience. Nothing you do can take away what they’re feeling. I saw Haig hurt as I drove him to appointments with every twist and turn the road took. The dred as the chemotherapy entered his veins. The sounds of pain and cries as other teenagers on the ward received their treatment. The waiting - the hours and hours of waiting for the chemotherapy treatment to end.
We were so young when Haig was diagnosed. 21 and 22 years old, together for 4 years with no life changing event before that tested us as a couple. This was the biggest test of our lives. When I look back to Haig’s time in treatment, we both definitely had tunnel vision, the goal was to reach remission then be declared cured, we weren’t considering all the emotional trauma that needed consulting too.
After some difficult months when Haig’s treatment had finished, we felt like our relationship had shifted and we didn’t know what to do. I started having panic attacks and experienced crippling anxiety. Haig was thinking about death and had anxiety over the cancer coming back. We loved each other deeply but needed some time apart to reevaluate our relationship and be independent people again. I know it sounds weird, usually experiences like this bring people closer but Haig and I do things differently. We spent a couple of weeks apart, still very much together but taking time and space to get back to normality.
Throughout everything, Haig was the bravest person I've ever known. He dealt with his illness with strength and he cried and talked about his feelings in the process. To me, that is the manliest thing I've ever witnessed.
We needed something to make us feel alive after Haig's treatment so we jumped out of a plane. We raised money for Teenage Cancer Trust who looked after Haig at Addenbrookes during treatment. The services and staff at the ward were brilliant in making the process less painful. We're grateful to Willow for organising it and UK Parachuting for making us feel as safe as possible considering the circumstances. Here we are bellow wearing our Oddballs.
It's important to remember that there's no one way to deal with a cancer diagnosis. The experience is completely personal. There are many support services available such as Macmillan, Marie Curie and Cancer Support.
After some time and deep conversations, life slowly started getting back to normal. We had changed though. Cancer made us reevaluate everything and told us so boldly that life is precious and can be taken away just like that. For me, life is finding meaning in everything I do. I smile more at strangers, I hug more animals, I tell Haig I love him every day, I read more books and I say what’s on my mind. You are only on this earth for who knows how long. Make it count.