Fertility – it affects men too!

As men, we like to discuss crude topics and the modern prerequisite to masculinity includes bravado and confidence. When it comes to our personal health, however, we seem to clam up and find these things difficult to talk about.

My treatment started in quite an abrupt way, so I didn’t really have a lot of time to process my thoughts about fertility and the affect that the treatment would have on my future, but I’ve had a good 18 months to reflect now and thought I’d share my thoughts.

On my first day in hospital, I had been given my diagnosis, told that I would be spending Christmas locked in an isolation room hooked up to a drip, and that I probably wouldn’t be going back to work for 3-6 months. As my consultant was just about to leave me to my thoughts, she said… “oh one other thing, you didn’t want kids did you?” Though I understand that statistically most patients (being over 50) have been through that process or have made a decision not to by this point – as a relatively young 34 year old without children, it was (and still is) quite important to me that I could continue my legacy at some point in the not too distant future. And being told that there was an 80-90% chance that post-chemo the chances of fertility were limited, I wanted to know what my options were. In fact, given more time, I probably would have opted for a delay to chemo at the time.

In context – it was the 22nd of December, all of the key departments would soon be breaking up for Christmas and they were desperate to get me on to chemotherapy before it was too late. With a bit of pleading and ringing around by the clinical staff, they managed to arrange an appointment for me at the Birmingham Women’s hospital that afternoon as an ’emergency’ patient.

By this point I had a lot on my mind. I’m not the most comfortable in these situations at the best of times, but in addition to the pain and discomfort I was already feeling – added to the fact that the only person available to take me was my Mum (there were no hospital transport options due to the holiday), I started to feel rather uncomfortable about the whole situation.

Banking on myself

So within a few hours, I was hobbling into the Women’s hospital asking to bank some of my potential self for future use.

I spent some time filling in forms and answering complex philosophical and ethical questions regarding, for example, the event of my having children posthumously and whether they would be allowed to know their genetic origin. Next I was ushered into a room which was furnished and decorated with a strange clinical, seedy kitchen aesthetic with sparkly counters and a red faux-leather sofa. There was a red folder with wipe clean pages marked “adult material” hidden under the counter which judging by the depicted topiary and costumes hadn’t been updated since 1988. Not having participated in any related activity for several months, the challenge facing me seemed like a mountain to climb, but luckily I had 3G reception. With a bit of imagination and a pending sense of urgency and self-pity, I managed to fulfil my requirement.

The good news is that although I only had a usable count of 50%, the count was quite high so they were able to bank a sufficient quantity of the little fellows. I’m quite apprehensive about getting rechecked (incidentally this Friday) as the prospect of having a reduced usefulness in case of an extreme populational crisis weighs rather heavily. Having a chance of procreation in the non-traditional sense is at least comforting.

The Male Fertility Elephant

The NHS choices website has a ‘fertility check -health tool’ which is aimed at women.
The local place to get tested for me is the ‘women’s hospital’
I’ve been to two talks about fertility for cancer patients and in both cases, the presenter was surprised to see any let alone a small number of men and said “I’m afraid my slides are really aimed at women, but if you do have any questions, please ask and I’ll try and help.” I also spoke to a lady who had been lobbying the government about better choices for young people having to deal with fertility issues as a result of chemo and when I said that I understand as I went through a similar situation, she said “oh, I’d never really thought that it could affect men too!”

With this experience, I have wondered whether men are just too shy or proud to ask and hence there is a lack of information- creating a kind of self-perpetuating situation. Perhaps it is such a small issue that support for men doesn’t warrant the resource. For me, however, it seems like a big issue so I wanted to talk about the subject and express my concerns herein. I’m not sure this will do any good, or whether anyone will find this useful – but I’d love to hear about the experience of others and it would be great to identify and break the barriers to discussion regarding this and also similar male health topics.

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

12 Months on.

Thursday 5th May was a statistical milestone for me as it is 12 months since my final Chemo session. I have recently found statistics a little difficult to identify with, as statistically speaking I should not have been ill in the first place.

During the early days of my recovery I spent most of my energy trying to get back to my previous routine. In hindsight, I perhaps pushed back a little too hard and fast as I am now struggling with a less than perfect immune system and the fatigue did get the better of me on a number of occasions. I am glad to say, however, that my health is otherwise pretty good and I have been working, partying and excercising at a high rate and in equal measure.

A New Normal

Getting back to normal seemed like an obvious objective from a hospital bed, but it since has felt like an unnecessary and overwhelming challenge. For me, I can live a similar life as I previously had, although I must also be mindful that as with any trauma, it affects us in ways beyond the phyisical and visible scars. I am now facing up to the fact that along with the impact of 6 months treatment, both my outlook and objectives have quite significantly changed.

Life is a series of hurdles and challenges and while this was quite a high hurdle, it has put some of my previous hurdles in perspective.

Continuing with the analogy, I now know that each time we come to a hurdle we can do three things: pause and panic, divert and change course or just jump over it. I feel that the way we deal with our challenges is less important as long as we reflect on the things that we also gain: An experience from which we can learn and improve, a sense of satisfaction from the achievement (whether it was a disaster averted or a problem solved), and finally the lens of perspective through which we can compare future problems.

4 weddings and a festival.

In an attempt to put the last 12 months in perspective a lot has happened and I am finding it difficult to recall. Whether it has been a conscious effort on my part and of those around me, I am not sure, but this year has been a rather ridiculous series of events and though life is never simple, even without my illness I think it would be difficult for this not to have had an impact on me.

Since May 2015, I’ve been to 5 stag do’s (in 5 different countries) and 6 weddings (in 3 different countries) I was best man at one which was at the same time in a different country to another which I had to miss. I’ve been to Glastonbury festival, several carnivals, beer festivals and nightclubs. My 2 younger brothers both announced they are to become fathers, I went back to work, was made redundant, became self employed and single. I have 3 more weddings to attend in the next few months, 2 more stag do’s and funeral.

I have met a lot of great people, made new friends, learned a lot and had some of the worse hangovers of my life (insignificant in the context of my chemo experience). This year has definitely been the craziest so far, but as we never know what is round the corner, my intention is to continue taking each day as it comes and working hard to make sure that I enjoy and make use of the time I have, and to convert challenges into experiences to share.