This is a cancer blog / story piece I wrote for Sickboy, before I appeared on their brilliant, award winning podcast in February 2020. Sickboy had two million downloads last year, and the show tackles the stigma around serious illness. Sickboy is produced in Canada.
I’m a pretty unlikely penis poster boy
Of all the things I could be known for… being over 6ft tall when I left primary school at 11, or scoring ten headers in a cup game. Playing guitar solos behind my head, or telling the kinds of outrageous jokes that are banned by my wife. Being the giant dad on the school run, or the nerd that always wins the pub quiz.
No, it’s my cock actually. I’m one of the few people that have been diagnosed with penile cancer. One of 700 or so last year in the UK.
I’m also the youngest, probably*. At just 40, married and with two kids under 5, it wasn’t really great timing.
This isn’t a disease for young men.
The people that usually get the bad news are older men with uncircumcised dicks, that haven’t been able to wash them for a while. Phimosis sets in, (that’s a foreskin that’s stuck tight to save you a google) and the cheese turns into a tumour. I’m probably paraphrasing, I’m not a doctor.
I’ve been called a very dirty boy once or twice. But.. not like that. It’s not an area of my body that’s ever caused me any grief. Well, not medical anyway.
I should have added that to the list of things I’m famous for.
Some memories just last forever.
Like when the Berlin Wall came down, or Chris Waddle missing that penalty against Germany. I’ll always remember how all this started. It was the night before we all went to Peppa Pig world.
I had a really itchy cock, my foreskin was welded tight, I was leaking some kind of mystery fluid and it felt like I had a lump too. I spent the next couple of days struggling with itching and mopping up the juices.
By the time I visited my doctor on the Monday, I was ready to have it all cut off. Shaved down to a stump with an industrial sander if needs be.
So how did all this happen?
It’s really difficult to tell. Could it be down to my promiscuous teens and twenties, or those cigarettes I smoked in the 90’s? Doubtful. It was almost certainly down to HPV.
It’s a really common virus. It’s officially a STI, but most people will never know they’ve got it and it often disappears as quickly as it arrives. It just sits around, lurking in your loins.
Teenagers in the UK are routinely vaccinated for it now, but that certainly wasn’t the case when I was young. It’s a really big deal. HPV is the key protagonist in a number of intimate cancers. Penis, vulva, vagina, anal, cervical and tonsil cancers all have a link with HPV. What have all these places got in common? You guessed it, cocks.
It was time to see the doctor.
It wasn’t a successful trip, and I left less satisfied than when I’d arrived. He just sent me away with some creams. After a couple of weeks, when the creams didn’t work, I was sent to the sexual health clinic for a full screening. When those tests came back negative and two more weeks went by, I caused a little bit of a scene. I felt like I’d been badly let down and needed to take control. After a bit more pushing, I finally managed to get a referral to a urologist. But things had really changed by now, the tumours were growing at an alarming rate.
Superstar surgeon Jim Adshead only took a few seconds to give me the bad news. Just as the bottom of my world fell out, he referred me on again. But this time, it was for all the right reasons.
After a few hours crying in the car park and making inappropriate jokes with my wife, I called the number. I didn’t really have time to think. Two months of being passed from pillar to post, with horrendous discomfort and despair, I was going to be under the knife in two days.
It’s not the end, or even the beginning of the end, but it’s the end of the beginning.
In those two months, the tumour on the head of my penis was about an inch and a half long and thick like an earthworm. I’d grown a second tumour too. Buried in my groin was a tumour the size of a tennis ball. I was in serious trouble.
The brilliant professor Nick Watkin, world leading urological surgeon and master of male plumbing talked me through the plan. We had options, and before I was put under, I still didn’t know if I’d wake up with a penis or not.
Fortunately, the main tumour was trapped in my foreskin and I woke up with a catheter, a porn star circumcision, swollen bollocks and a drain bottle. My lymphatic system was never going to be the same again.
More ops to strip out all my lymph nodes in the groin and pelvis confirmed that I had stage 3, grade 3 cancer. It had spread from the head of my penis to my groin and there was a couple of cells on the other side too. Weeks of chemo and radiotherapy followed, and I struggled with lymphedema, insomnia and crazy anxiety around scan time.
It’s not all bad news
I’m a year in remission now, and while I still get sleepless nights sometimes, things are slowly returning to normal. I’m starting to run again, I feel healthier and I’m getting back to being me.
So it’s time for me to tell everyone that wants to listen about this very male cancer. I write https://knob.blog and chronicle all my adventures with cancer treatment and recovery. It’s a guide too, where I share my experience of all the amazing things doctors do.
Cancer is such a personal journey, but all of us have some common ground. I couldn’t find any really honest cancer stories on the internet when I needed them, and nothing about male cancers or even by men. So, I built one.
Oh and I suppose you all want to know about how my dick is now? Yeah, it’s magic thanks.
I always try and give people a happy ending.
Jonathan Little is a tech entrepreneur, business advisor and reluctant activist. He lives in England with his wife, two children, two cats and his inappropriate thoughts. Jonathan regularly writes about cancer, healthcare and business.