Ivor Ramsey is all too familiar with the acute despair a man experiences when diagnosed with testicular cancer.
Ivor has been a fire-fighter for the best part of 20 years and recently he was promoted to the position of Crew Commander at Crescent Link Fire Station in the Waterside.
“I remember the day I went to Altnagelvin for my scan. My dad wanted to drive me to the hospital but I told him I wanted to walk - I needed to clear my head.
“I remember looking back and all I could see was my parents looking out the window at me as I left - they were crying and I was crying too,” recalled Ivor.
Ivor was 28 years-old when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer and after having one of his testicles removed he received three weeks of radiotherapy. Ivor is now 41 years-old and has been happily married for the last eight years.
“I can’t speak highly enough of my friends and family and in particular all of my colleagues in the fire service. They rallied around me and made sure I was alright - some of them even drove me up and down to Belvoir Park when I was receiving my radiotherapy treatment.”
Along with the rest of the fire-fighters on duty on Wednesday afternoon, Ivor attended an information session on testicular and prostate cancer which was hosted by Habinteg Housing health promotion worker, Margaret Cunningham.
“I think the work Margaret is doing is great because it’s tough to address such an important issue as male cancer with such a large group of men.”
Remarkably, Ivor only became aware something wasn’t right when his sister used him as a guinea pig to practice for her reflexology exam.
“I lived my life almost exactly the way Margaret said you should,” said Ivor.
“I exercised on a regular basis, ate good healthy food, I didn’t smoke and I only had a few beers at the weekend.
“It wasn’t until my sister was practicing her reflexology on my feet that things started to change. She kept on at me and told me to go to the doctor so I did.”
After visiting the family doctor, Ivor was referred to Altnagelvin where initial tests came back inconclusive. But the doctor in charge, not willing to take any risks, advised Ivor to have his testicle removed.
“It was traumatic to say the least and I remember asking myself all kinds of questions at the time but after I had the testicle removed a biopsy was conducted. When it tested positive for testicular cancer I didn’t know what to do.
“The radiotherapy treatment was horrible. I travelled up and down to Belvoir Park every day for three weeks. I remember the first time I came home after the treatment. I got into the house and my mum wanted to ask me how I got on but I felt that sick because of the treatment I ran to the toilet and threw up - it was a tough time.”
After the surgery was complete and Ivor started to recover he decided to have a testicular prostheses inserted into his scrotum.
“I remember coming to work and speaking with my commander at the time, Willie Lynch, and I told him everything that had happened - Willie couldn’t have been more supportive,” he said.
Ivor returned to work five months after he was diagnosed but he attended to regular hospital appointments to make sure the cancer had not spread or returned.
“They say if you have managed to stay clear of cancer for six years after your treatment then the chances of it returning are not as high.”
Ivor reaches to touch the desk beside him.
“Touch wood I never have to go through something like that again. It was a horrible part of my life but if I was to give any man advice it would be this - no matter how trivial or insignificant you think the symptom or symptoms to be, go to your doctor and get checked out because it could save your life - essentially, just check your balls,” he said.
“Some of my colleagues have approached me over the years to ask me for advice. Testicular cancer is not something to be ashamed of and the more men open up and talk about it the better.
“I know I’ve said it before but the help and support I received from my friends, family and my fellow firefighters - it’s something I will never forget. The camaraderie here is like nothing I have every experienced before,” said Ivor smiling.
Margaret Cunningham, who is a qualified nurse, said she was delighted to be able to take the ‘Know Your Balls... check ‘em out!’ campaign to the fire-fighters.
“It’s getting better every time I speak with a group of men - they are all quite open about things. I did something similar with Derry City FC and find going out and engaging with the men to be informative and extremely proactive.
“I am so grateful to Ivor and the other fire-fighters for letting me come here today to talk to the men - hopefully it will make a difference.
“I think the important message to stress to all men is to check their testicles and always be on the look out for any changes. I don’t want to be alarmist but this is very important,” she said.
For more information on male cancer visit www.orchid-cancer.org.uk, email firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 0207 601 7167