Jonathan Manners was enjoying an increasingly successful career in the world of classical music. He was building a reputation as a manager and producer, and had great ambitions to start his own record label and break new ground in his profession.
But one day he noticed a lump on one testicle. He didn’t think anything of it at first – until weeks later, it began to hurt so much that he decided to go to A&E. The doctor who examined him dismissed the thought of cancer and gave him antibiotics ‘for a urinary infection’.
Jonny told his mother about it. She worked in A&E and made him promise that if things hadn’t improved by Christmas she’d like to arrange for a colleague to give him an ultrasound.
He did nothing, so it wasn’t until weeks later just after Christmas that he was eventually diagnosed with testicular cancer. ‘Not only did I have cancer, but the cancer had spread as well.’ said Jonny.
Jonny’s cancer diagnosis
‘Men are particularly bad at going to the doctor and I can’t believe I was that stupid.’
‘I wasn’t too scared at that point. It was after the initial surgery when the doctor was talking about chemotherapy and my chances of survival that I was suddenly very afraid.’
‘It was almost like I couldn’t breathe and I was totally consumed by fear. I had never before stopped to think about life having a final end point.’
Jonny found that the support he received from friends and family helped him through the chemotherapy which started taking its toll. ‘It felt like the kind of hangover where you have to do stuff the next day and your body is in utter agony and you just don’t think it can ever quite stop.’
And then came another shock. ‘There was a tumour that was between my stomach and my spine.’ Surgeons at The Royal Marsden had to undertake a major procedure. ‘I had surgery where they took out my stomach, got out the tumour and then put my stomach back.’
Coping with testicular cancer
So what did he feel was the worst part of the whole experience? ‘The most difficult time was when I was on chemotherapy, the waiting feeling; my energy levels were dropping and I felt very poorly.’
‘I remember thinking, I wonder which way this is going to go? Am I just going to fade away? I was just thinking there was so much I really wanted to do.’
He said that what pulled him through was the support of his family and friends. The thought that he had ‘unfinished business’ that he had to attend to and the determination that he would make ‘every second count’ from then on.
Jonny was introduced to male cancer charity, Orchid, and found that he got huge support from talking to other people suffering from testicular cancer. He described how vulnerable he felt when he was given the ‘all clear’.
‘In a way it is when you are your most fragile. Your security blanket has been taken away and that is when you need help the most. I had lost my fertility.’
Jonny said for him the most important thing, in hindsight, was the need to be more honest about how he was feeling. It’s taken years to realise that being ‘open’ about feeling low or depressed or being honest about one’s mental health is the only way of ‘getting through it’.
‘I don’t think I did cope with the depression and that part of being ill is still with me. At no point when I was being treated in hospital did anyone ask me about my mental health. I had lots of worries – about my appearance and whether I should have a prosthesis, for example.’
‘I am still not over the changes it has made for me, not least the fact that I cannot father a child naturally. It’s big stuff and I think this side of the illness, depression, is ignored somewhat.’
Jonny is now in a new relationship which he describes as ‘the most honest that I have ever had’. He says he finds it easier to talk about the things that, almost ten years on from treatment, still make him quite insecure.
So what was the best thing to come out of this ten year experience?
‘The best thing about having had cancer is the ability to know that life has an end and that you have to cherish the people around you and to make the most of every day.’
‘You do think you are very lucky to be able to do all the things you want to do! Now, I am glad that I had cancer and I am pleased that this opened my eyes to realise that you do have to relish everything that you do every day.’
When providing one piece of advice to other men who may have just been diagnosed with testicular cancer, Jonny’s key piece of advice is to find people to talk to.
‘You’ll be amazed how everyone’s stories are so different yet there are unique themes that run through them all. Don’t be afraid to talk because you’ll feel so much better for doing it.’