Health problem was certainly no holiday

If all had gone to plan, I'd have been regaling you today with happy tales of fun and frolics from our summer holiday in France - a fortnight of seaside relaxation on the coast of Brittany.

If all had gone to plan, I'd have been regaling you today with happy tales of fun and frolics from our summer holiday in France - a fortnight of seaside relaxation on the coast of Brittany.

As regular readers will be all too aware, however, things rarely go to plan here at Bullock Towers. For instead of cramming the Bullockmobile full of cases, kites, buckets and spades, I suddenly found myself anxiously packing a bag for an emergency stay in the Norfolk & Norwich University Hospital.

With only two days to go before the Portsmouth-St Malo ferry set sail, our long-awaited family holiday in Bénodet had to be abandoned and the past few weeks have been spent talking about little more than, er, cancer.

After months of sensible eating, determined dieting, daily jogging and generally showing off about my 2007 Super-Duper Bullock Health Regime, I've been diagnosed as suffering from the dreaded 'Big C'. Typical. That never happens in those flaming Special K adverts.


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It all started with a tiny lump, as these things often do, in a particularly personal part of my anatomy. Am I allowed to mention testicles in a family newspaper, just when you're trying to relax with your EDP over a Saturday morning coffee and croissant?

I imagine so. Even I'm mature enough to speak frankly about such matters, despite tittering for many years over two particularly well-thumbed pages of my biology textbook. To be honest, so many medical experts have now prodded, probed, viewed and discussed my 'privates' that I've gone well beyond any sense of dignity or embarrassment.

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After an ultrasound scan had detected a suspicious shady mass, I was hastily summoned to see a specialist one morning in early August in what turned out to be a memorably nightmarish appointment.

He was a friendly, courteous gentleman and I'd expected him simply to dismiss my problem as some harmless inflammation. Instead, he pointed to a ghostly grey haze on the ultrasound images with an air of alarm and began talking about cancer, a tumour "highly suspicious of malignancy", oncologists, survival rates and the need for surgery either that very afternoon or the following day.

My entire life flashed before me - and, disappointingly, it wasn't all that interesting. The terrible illness that everyone fears: and I'd got it, just days after my 44th birthday? I hadn't even had time to spend the gift vouchers.

Still struggling to take in the enormity of such a shocking diagnosis, I wandered around the fiendishly complicated hospital in a blur, trying to keep calm and composed while tracking down the X-ray and blood testing departments.

Finally, just to add insult to injury, I had to fork out £4 for the privilege of having used the wretched car park.

Testicular cancer, as I've been constantly reassured, has excellent cure rates. In the words of one upbeat doctor during my stay in hospital: "If you're going to get cancer, this really is the one to get." Hmm.

To provide further words of comfort, a couple of people urged me to "remember what happened to Lance Armstrong" - though in my drug-induced haze I couldn't make any sensible connection between gravel-voiced jazz legend Satchmo and the surgical removal of one of my most sensitive organs.

I subsequently discovered that the Armstrong in question is an acclaimed Tour de France cyclist who has famously overcome testicular cancer. . . and has probably never sung Hello Dolly or tooted a trumpet.

News of my medical condition has mostly been greeted with due sympathy and concern, though there have been one or two lighthearted reactions. Upon hearing of my radical surgery, for instance, one witty acquaintance joked: "Blimey. You'll stoop to anything to lose a bit of weight!" It didn't exactly have me in stitches but my scar throbbed rather painfully as I chuckled.

Another response was: "That is bad news - but it could be worse. You could be a Norwich City supporter."

Cancer is, of course, a highly serious illness and I appreciate that it affects different people in many different ways, often blighting lives and families.

Fortunately, one month on from my own diagnosis, I'm happy to report that the worst appears to be mostly behind me - apart from a dose of chemotherapy and regular check-ups for several years to come.

Next summer, I fully intend to be lying on a beach in Brittany rather than a hospital bed in Norfolk. Promise.

ianb@ianbcommunications.com

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