Thursday, July 2, 2009

Famous Testicular Cancer Patients, Part One

Had a nice chat last night with the Testicle Fairy, who's been visiting me periodically since my surgery in the summer of 2008. I told him about my blog, and he encouraged me to write about some of the people he's known. Thus this first (of hopefully several) installments on famous testicular cancer patients.

A word first on the cancer: testicular cancer spreads quickly and was typically fatal up until the late 1960s. Thanks to widely-applied advancements in treatment, however, survival rates today are above 95 percent in countries where healthcare is accessible. Treatment typically involves an operation called the radical inguinal orchiectomy, and in some cases radiation or chemotherapy.

The most common age of onset for nonseminoma testicular cancers is 18-30, so people who get famous while young, such as athletes, account for the majority of high-profile testicular cancer cases. You have probably heard, for example, about Lance Amstrong's cancer. The following stories, however, may be new to you:

Story 1:
"It Has Worked Wonders for My Snooker"

Name: Jimmy "Whirlwind" White
Nationality: Britisher
Occupation: Professional snooker player, six times a world championship finalist but never a bride--er, champion.
Side: Left
Cancer story: Went in for a routine insurance check-up and mentioned a lump he'd found "as an afterthought." Events unfolded in a whirlwind (ha ha) after that: referral to a specialist, a quick diagnosis, orchiectomy the day after, and voila! White was back to the snooker table in no time.
Result: "My son Tommy Tiger, who was born three years later, is living proof that you can not only survive with one testicle but also that everything is still in working order." White also credits the disease with improving his game by putting the stress of competition in perspective.
Quote: "To be honest, most of my troubles - bankruptcy, drinking, gambling - were self-inflicted. But cancer is one thing I can't blame myself for. I am just a very, very lucky guy to have caught it in time. Either way, it has worked wonders for my snooker."

Story 2:
Better Than Another Blown Knee

Even after surgery, Nene still has two...

Name: Nene, like most Brazilian sports legends, goes by a single four-letter name.
Nationality: Brazilian
Occupation: Shutting you down
Side: Right
Cancer Story: Drafted in 2002, Nene missed 148 of his first potential 437 games due to injuries. In 2004-05, he was out with a sprained ligatament, a hip contusion, and a strained hamstring. He played a grand total of 3 minutes in 2005-06 before blowing out his knee, and injury that abruptly ended his play for that season. In the 2007-08 season alone, he went out and came back three times: from a ruptured calf, a torn thumb ligament, and then testicular cancer (first detected during a routine team drug test). Nene's treatment involved an orchiectomy and chemotherapy. While the survival rates for testicular cancer today are above 95%, some athletes with advanced cases of the disease have worried about potential negative side affects of chemotherapy, which can affect weight and energy level and in some cases cause permanent damage to the lungs.
Result: The chemotherapy doesn't appear to have interfered with Nene's playing abilities in any way: the 2008-09 season was by far the best in his career. Dime magazine went so far as to honor him as the Most Improved Player of the season's first half.
Quote: "A lot of things that I had in my life — all these injuries, all these physical problems — I know for a lot of people's eyes these are bad things. But for my eyes, that is a good thing. They made me learn a lot of things spiritually. From what happened to me, the chemotherapy, the cancer, if you want to be an example you need to be an example in every aspect of your life, on and off the court."

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