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Cancer was one of the best things to happen to me ... but I worry about the future

London, UK: For Dan Savage, surviving testicular cancer has been a spur to him making the most of his life and taking more adventurous decisions, and he says, that in retrospect, it was probably one of the best things that has happened to him. But as he approaches the end of his fifth year in remission from the disease, when he will be signed off as "cured" by the medical profession, he worries that from now on he will have no regular medical checks that might pick up early signs of the cancer returning. It will be down to him to contact the cancer clinic if he is worried about any new symptoms.

Dan, aged 25, is now an award-winning artist. He has set up his own studio in York (UK) and specialises in creating glass artwork for architectural spaces. He is also an ambassador for Teenage Cancer Trust and will be speaking at the charity's Fifth International Conference on Teenage and Young Adult Cancer Medicine on Tuesday.

Dan was 20 and studying art at Lancaster University when he discovered a lump the size of half a pea in his right testicle. After having surgery at Lancaster he was transferred to St James's hospital in Leeds for chemotherapy.

"The chemotherapy was largely precautionary. The outward appearance of the tumour suggested it had been caught early, but when they dissected it, they found it was quite developed, just on the brink of spreading and they didn't want to take that risk. Also they found that I had the most aggressive form of testicular cancer, teratoma," says Dan.

Dan feels he got off fairly lightly, although the chemotherapy made him very sick and he lost his hair. Looking back now, he says: "Having cancer, for me, was one of the best things to happen. It gave me a real drive to succeed and make the most of my life. I know, from speaking to other cancer survivors, that many of them agree. I have gained more confidence. Starting up my own business isn't necessarily what I would have done prior to having cancer." Cancer didn't stop his studies: he went back to university, completed his degree and went on to do a Masters degree in Glass. He has also married his long-term girlfriend.

Dan has not suffered any particular problems following his treatment, although he finds he is more susceptible to common colds and other illnesses that are going around.

"I'm much more aware now of my own body and if anything is slightly out of kilter, I'm probably a lot more paranoid about it," he says. "On a day-to-day basis I'm fairly relaxed, but if I have an ache or pain I start to worry.

"One thing I am getting a bit worried about is that I'm coming up to five years in remission, and will be signed off by the doctors in June. Thereafter it's up to me. People say I'm cured but I don't see it like that. Something could crop up. It worries me that I won't have any more medical checks. I know that if I find anything that's odd I can go straight back to the clinic rather than the GP, which is good because the GP route was a bit of a nightmare. So that is reassuring. But I get reassurance from having regular checks, from having a blood test and even if I don't hear anything after the blood test has been taken, I still know someone has seen it and it's OK. I would prefer to keep the checks going for longer."

Before his chemotherapy the doctors talked to him about fertility and he had sperm samples frozen. The samples were good quality, but, as he was young, fit and healthy (apart from the cancer), he knows he has a good chance of his fertility returning to normal levels, although he hasn't re-visited the fertility clinic to check yet.

Dan says he has become very health conscious in terms of fitness levels and diet. "I drink a lot of green tea!"


Contact: Emma Mason
Teenage Cancer Trust

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