Shocking find in man’s stomach

By | October 13, 2019

He ignored it.

Months later, he started to get excruciating stomach pains that kept him awake at night. A CAT scan on his abdomen showed he had testicular cancer and it had spread to his lymph nodes, lungs and neck.

Not going to the doctor as soon as he noticed his enlarged testicle will always be one of Daniel’s bigger regrets. When caught early, testicular cancer is one of the most treatable cancers.

What followed was a harrowing two years for Daniel and his family.

After having his testicle removed and doing three months of intensive chemotherapy, doctors discovered a 20cm teratoma tumour in his abdomen.

Removing a tumour like this is incredibly complicated. The first thing the surgeon said to him was “right, Daniel, as far as surgery goes, there’s conjoined twins and then there’s this”.

During the procedure known as a retroperitoneal lymph node dissection, Daniel almost died on the operating table. As he was waking up from the gruelling procedure, he was told that the operation had not been a success and they had been unable to remove the tumour.

“It was complicated because the tumour was all in behind my guts, so they have to cut you open from your sternum down as far as they can go, and then they have to remove all your bowel and intestines to get to the enlarged lymph nodes underneath,” Daniel explains.

“Mine was unusual in that it had grown much bigger than they normally get. It was like a two-litre milk carton. The tumour had wrapped around the blood vessels so they had to try and cut around blood vessels to remove it … as I understand it they kept severing the blood vessels and it nearly killed me.”

The then 38-year-old was told he had six months to live and was placed in palliative care.

“In palliative care I was accepting I was going to die,” says Daniel.

“Those few months really stand out. I was constantly gripped by the thought that I was going to die soon. I’d forget for an hour while I was watching Game Of Thrones and then it would finish and it would hit me again even harder.

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“The big stuff like saying goodbye to family and friends — especially my little siblings and nephew who couldn’t understand why I couldn’t play with them any more — that was almost impossible to face.

“I could barely eat because I had a big tumour that was impacting on my stomach. I wasn’t doing much. Basically all I was doing was trying to have my pain managed and trying to take my mind off it.”

One thing he did do was visit support forums and talked to others who had been diagnosed with the disease.

An American man, Mike Craycraft who ran the forum, read about Daniel’s situation and reached out saying he knew of some experts in the field in Australia.

One of these oncologists agreed to see him at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Melbourne.

By this time Daniel’s stomach was so comprised he had to lay flat in the back of the car as his parents drove him from Adelaide to Melbourne for his appointment.

It was there that surgeon Jeremy Goad agreed to have another go at removing the tumour.

“For months it had just been about where I was going to die, and my will … the news that someone else was prepared to have a go at the surgery meant I had something else going on in my life.”

But he didn’t want to get his hopes up. All he saw the surgery as was something to temporarily take his mind off things. He had accepted that it was inoperable.

Incredibly, when he woke he was informed the operation had been a success.

“It was quite overwhelming emotionally … it was emotional to hear it and share the news with my family and friends,” he says. “Getting to call people and tell them you’re not dying any more, that’s pretty special.

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“We had just assumed that if one group of surgeons couldn’t remove any of it then three months later another group would have the same problem.”

There were still further operations on his lungs and neck, and then a third retroperitoneal lymph node dissection last year. All up, Daniel endured eight operations and spent more than 100 nights in hospital.

His parents, who had split years before, temporarily relocated to a hotel room in Melbourne together to support their son as he went through the extensive treatment.

“It was really hard, but something like this brings you together as a family,” he says.

Two years after diagnosis, Daniel, 40, is now well enough to be back at work full-time as a digital journalist.

“There’s still a couple of centimetres of tumour in my abdomen, so I get scanned every six months to monitor it,” he explains.

“At some stage I’ll probably have more surgery on it, but it’s manageable now. I can live a healthy life without really knowing that it’s there. It’s not considered an active cancer.”

Daniel is sharing his story to support the Movember campaign.

“Movember has a strong database of information about testicular cancer and they are dedicated to talking to young men about it,” he says.

“My message is ‘don’t do what I did and ignore initial symptoms’. It almost killed me.

“If I knew then what Movember is telling young men now — that testicular cancer is something you’re more likely to get when you’re younger, ie in your 20s and 30s — I might have acted quicker on my initial symptoms.”

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Reading about other people’s experiences was enormously helpful to Daniel when he was going through his diagnosis.

“That was the best way I learned about it, rather than just reading scientific facts — you start to educate yourself through other people’s stories,” he explains.

“The information meant so much more coming from a real person — Movember helps in this way by connecting people going through testicular cancer with each other”.

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During his recovery, Daniel sent an email to the American man who had provided the surgeon recommendation to tell him he had effectively saved his life.

“He wrote back telling me that it had brought him to tears. He said he had run the forum for a long time and to know he was able to have that impact was particularly significant for him.”

Daniel says his experience has had many positive impacts on his life.

“I have more serious conversations with my mates now after going through something like this. I’m more confident to speak out about things and more confident to have difficult conversations. I think we should be able to talk about the hard things in life.

“I also appreciate the little things. When I was really sick I couldn’t get enjoyment from things like travelling or going to concerts so I had to find joy in much smaller things. I started looking at the big gum trees near my house when I could eventually walk outside, and I realised I had never really looked at them properly. Things like that have stayed with me. When you believe for a period of time you’re going to die soon, your perspective on the life you’ve lived and the life that is to come changes.

“The little things that you get to do as you get better mean so much. Before I was sick I could sit in front of the footy and eat a whole pizza. For so long I couldn’t eat at all. The first time I ate a whole pizza again was an awesome feeling.

“The other day I was climbing over some rocks with my little nephew and I thought ‘there’s no way I could have done this 18 months ago’. I now appreciate little things that I would have taken for granted and that’s a nice way to live your life.”

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