Testicular cancer in a young man has him baffled & bewildered


Jill Margo Health editor

As soon as he left the doctor’s con­sulting rooms, Simon Clarke got into his car and opened Google. The shock hadn’t quite hit him as he scrolled down and began looking for information about testicular cancer.

At 23, he was entirely unprepared for the diagnosis he had just received. Not only had he never met anyone with this type of cancer, but he had only vaguely heard of it and had ­erroneously assumed it was something that affected older men.

Simon Clarke wants younger men to know about male cancers so they don’t ­stumble into it the way he did.image

Simon Clarke wants younger men to know about male cancers so they don’t ­stumble into it the way he did


Now, sitting outside the family ­doctor’s rooms on Sydney’s north shore, he couldn’t absorb what he was reading and he noticed his lunch break was almost over.

“I didn’t know what else to do so I drove back to work,“ says Simon, then an intern at corporate advisory firm Gresham Partners. By evening, the news had sunk in and he told his ­parents. Then he told others.

A few weeks earlier, in early Nov­ember 2012, he’d felt a dull ache in his stomach. It was a stressful time because he was in the final period of exams for his commerce and science degree at Sydney University and was also working as an intern.

The ache was constant. “There was nothing to see and initially the doctor told me not to worry about it. But it still didn’t go away and so two weeks later I went back and said ‘I just don’t feel right’.”

The pain was coming from his lower abdomen, towards his right groin, and the doctor ran tests which showed nothing. But Clarke persisted and his doctor upscaled the tests. Within another two weeks he had a CT scan and an MRI.

My life had changed in 20 minutes


Then he got the phone call and slipped out to the appointment during lunch. “I remember he looked down and told me I have testicular cancer. I didn’t even know [that possibility] was on the table and there we were, discussing an operation.

“In the space of 20 minutes my life had changed.”

And the change would be significant. It would shift Clarke’s focus off himself. Rather than taking privilege for granted, he would realise what he had and what he could potentially do for others.

Born to Australian parents in New York, he had spent part of his childhood there before the family returned to Sydney and he went to Knox ­Grammar, where he excelled academ­ically and at sport.

Apart from several sport-related broken bones, he had been in excellent health. The world lay open before him. He’d travelled widely and there had never been cause for him to pause to consider where he was going.

The diagnosis, however, stopped him in his tracks. “Despite solid family support, it was a solitary time and it gave me an opportunity for introspection I might not otherwise have had.”

He spent Christmas in hospital having surgery to remove his right testicle and during his recuperation he began reordering his priorities.

Testicular cancer is younger man’s disease


He’d noticed the impact his diag­nosis had on friends. While they joked about it and suggested he get an upsized prosthesis and a specially tailored suit to show it off, they were deeply shocked.They too didn’t know that testicular cancer is a younger man’s disease and that in Australia, the average age of diagnosis is the mid-30s.

It was so confronting, Simon wished he’d been forewarned.

To safeguard his fertility he had banked sperm before the operation and had then declined a prosthesis, ­preferring to live with himself the way he now was.

But what to do next? The lack of ­consensus among his specialists was worrying.

“I was constantly trying to learn more about my options, but what scared me was that in the space of a couple of weeks, I saw multiple ­specialists and they all advised me to do slightly different things. One said I should do chemo, one said I should have radiation and another said I should do nothing, just be in remission and have regular tests – if it spread I could take further action then.”

Simon took comfort from the fact that testicular cancer is highly treat­able, with relative survival higher than 97 per cent. While he prefers not to use the word “cure”, he opted to watch and wait.

“It was a tough decision and now every quarter I have scans and a series of tests to make sure there are no signs of cancer.”

Now an associate at Gresham, Simon has two personal goals.

He wants younger men to know about male cancers so they don’t ­stumble into it the way he did. And he wants to raise funds for research to understand more about these “below-the-belt” male cancers.

The Below the Belt Pedalthon


Such research is conducted by ANZUP, Australian and New Zealand Urogenital and Prostate Cancer Trials Group.

It is the kind of research that can’t be done by drug companies.

Using his own funds, and with the support of ANZUP and the help of friends, Simon has organised a cycling challenge at The Sydney Motor Sport Park (Eastern Creek) this September.

Called the Below the Belt Pedalthon, it challenges teams to complete the most laps possible within four hours on the closed track.

Throughout the day there are also a series of mini challenges. In true race style, garages in the main pit lane will accommodate teams of up to eight cyclists each.

The teams – of men and women and of both avid and recreational cyclists – will be drawn from the ­business ­community.

For his target market Simon is following a model set by the JPMorgan Corporate Challenge, which began as a modest fun run and is now a major international event.

Simon – who is not to be confused with the professional Australian cyclist of the same name – devised, wrote and published a sponsorship prospectus and has a target profit of $100,000 in the first year.

All funds raised will go directly to ANZUP, apart from a minor fee to the fund-raising platform.

While the group’s infrastructure is funded by ­Cancer Australia, each clinical trial needs its own funding stream, so ap­plying for grants, which it does, can take several years.

To kick off a pilot study to test the ­feasibility of a promising drug, surgery or post-operative care, the group needs between $30,000 and $250,000. Kicking off a clinical trial requires more than $1 million.

Henry Sapiecha

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