*early disclaimer; My blog posts might be sweary, and can be extremely graphic. I will often make light of what is an incredibly serious subject too. You have been warned!
How did all this happen?
So, where to begin? There’s little or no history of cancer in my family. Penile cancer was way down the list of things I thought there was even a chance I could die from. It just wasn’t a consideration, I didn’t even know it was a thing!
We all die of old age in my family, although I did have a great uncle that died on the toilet.
In the summer of 2019 I was 40. Relatively fit, ran a bit, stayed active, with two young children under 5. I’m a non smoker, not much of a drinker, with a pretty comfortable life in the rural Home Counties. (for the international viewers out there, that’s the green bit around London)
I first noticed it when I was on the way to meet my family in a hotel. It was the night before we were all going to Peppa Pig world. My cock was really itchy, and more specifically, the head. (or glans, if you’re an intellectual)
My foreskin had decided to shrink-wrap itself tight. Underneath, there was a little lump about the size of a pea, maybe a fat lentil. A smelly fluid was pouring out, alternating between clear and brown.
If this sounds like you, stop reading, call the doctor and ask if there’s any chance at all that it could be penile cancer. If you’re not happy with the answer, demand a referral to a urologist. *But then come back, some of this stuff is seriously funny.
What’s up doc?
So, after the weekend with Peppa, George and Mummy Pig, I went to see my GP.
*I should point out whilst we’re here, that our NHS is filled with incredible talented people, but some also slip through the net. The disinterested young locum GP doing a few months in our local surgery was one of them.
Initially, he decided that my ailment was balanitis. So the young doctor gave me some cream that was impossible to administer, due to my shrink wrapped knob. Then he gave me some steroid creams, intended to magically melt my foreskin into a new realm of flexibility. Yes, melt.
Always taught to trust a doctor (well, not Harold Shipman), I took my scepticism and went home with my creams. After the first attempt, it was clear they wouldn’t work, so I called back a few days later.
“What next Doc?” said I. “off to the sexual health clinic with you” said he.
Not wanting to be impertinent, but it was time to protest. I explained that I had a somewhat demanding wife and two kids under five. I told him that I was nowhere near as promiscuous as my looks and good humour deserved. But my protests fell on deaf ears.
So I arranged an appointment, and turned up at a NHS clinic in Stevenage for a full spectrum sexual health screening.
The clap clinic
I arrived early to take my seat amongst the mostly younger crowd. Some, that had no doubt been feeling edgy since that quickie on Friday night behind the kebab shop bins. I watched the prim office workers, nervously waiting for the call to review their weekend misdemeanours in the local Travelodge. I noticed the ones that were clearly professionals too. *That’s professionals in the Pornhub sense. Paid to spend an hour in the back of a taxi in a Croydon car park. Filmed looking like a plasterers radio, and given a handful of tissues and £350 in used notes.
Because of my situation, the swab tests were pretty uncomfortable. But I should mention that they’re not usually, and nothing should discourage people from getting themselves checked out.
After all, who doesn’t like a kebab now and again?
*just to be clear, Pornhub was before my time, but I did a summer as a scaffolder
A week or ten days went by, and I returned to discover that all the tests were negative. Their job was done, I was referred back to my GP.
It would be an understatement to say I lost my shit at this point. The NHS had run out of road as far as I was concerned. I demanded a referral to a urologist.
It took a week for the clinic to write to the GP and another 10 days for the GP to write the letter. At least I knew that when I finally managed to see a urologist, I’d get the right answer!
In the UK, if you have a serious medical issue, the NHS are incredible. Our public hospitals have amazing facilities, equipment, researchers and clinicians. But, I was furious, and decided it was time to use my private healthcare.
It’s a quirk of our UK system, that primary healthcare is almost always provided by the NHS. Whilst we do have private GP’s, it’s not the norm. When I needed a knee op, or some physio after a car crash, I would go to the private sector. That’s all I thought they did.
I have three NHS lifers in my family, and it’s an institution we are proud of as a nation. But if I had stayed in the public system – I would probably be dead now. I don’t say that lightly.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but if I had one wish (aside from a circumcision or HPV vaccine as a child), I would wish for a chance to turn back the clock. I would have forced the GP to refer me to a specialist at the first meeting.
Meeting the experts
I managed to get an appointment in a few days with the brilliant urologist James Adshead. By the time I arrived, the tumour on the head of my penis was about an inch and a half long. It was thick like a juicy earthworm and my foreskin was swollen and misshapen.
The smelly discharge hadn’t stopped since peppa pig, and it was unbearably itchy. It was seriously uncomfortable by now too, painful even. I couldn’t even manage a cheeky wank.
I had developed a golfball sized, hard lump in the right side of my groin. It wasn’t painful, but it just ached. I was really concerned though, I knew this was a big problem.
It took James about ten seconds to say “that’s cancer chap”, and refer me on again. James is one of the very best urologists in the UK, *the Daily Mail said so. But he made it clear that if it was him, or someone in his family, there was only one man to see.
A man that I would soon discover has a quite legendary status in the profession. Leading urological surgeon, and professor of all things penis at St Georges, University of London – Nick Watkin.
Nick saw me inside three days and had me booked in for surgery two days later.
This… is where the story really begins