So there I was - beer, sofa, TV, and indulging that habit guaranteed to draw looks of disgust and sighs of despair from the fairer sex, but understanding nods of approval from my fellow males. What I didn't realise, was that it was my life in my hands, not just my balls.
At first I wasn't really sure what I was feeling; I just knew it wasn't right. Surprisingly, my first thought wasn't "Oh God! What if it's cancer?". I'd read Lance Armstrong's books and from those I knew that that testicular cancer in the early stages is very curable. No, my first thought was "How long since I last checked myself?" Early detection and treatment would be the key to walking away from this.
I went straight to the doctor. I wasn't going to die of embarrassment, but if this was cancer and I ignored it, that really could kill me. I was sent for an ultrasound to rule out a cyst or other non-tumorous conditions. Unfortunately this ruled nothing out, so I needed a biopsy. My girlfriend at the time called me and asked if I was sitting down; she had read that a biopsy for testicular cancer meant an orchidectomy, or in layman's terms, my ball had to go! I had done my homework, (reputable websites only as there is a lot of rubbish online) and already knew this, but surprisingly it didn't bother me. I just knew that once it was gone, with a bit of treatment I had a good chance of being as right as rain, so it was a small price to pay.
I was determined that whatever was coming, I was going to face it in a positive manner. I even ordered a load of comedy CDs to listen to in case I needed chemo. The hardest part of the whole thing was telling my Mum. I thought about getting it done and dusted without telling her, but it meant I had to miss her 60th birthday, and that would have been very difficult to explain. I also knew she would be dreadfully hurt if I kept this from her, even though she would be terribly worried.
So the surgery was scheduled and the only remaining question was whether I wanted a prosthetic or not. Once my girlfriend and I had asked the surgeon if they did vibrating or glow in the dark balls, he realised I wasn't that bothered, especially as I didn't know what would happen when I returned to my day job flying jets - I really didn't want my ball exploding first time up! I must admit to having one worry, but when I woke up after surgery with an erection, that fear was instantly dispelled!
The biopsy revealed it was cancer but to my relief the scans showed I had caught it early; Stage 1 with no spread. I was offered one dose of preventative chemo which would bring the chances of it returning down to less than 2%. It was a no-brainier, so I took it. Despite pulling at my hair in the shower to see if it was falling out, (it wasn't) I was lucky that the chemo didn't affect me too badly, no worse than a hangover. Before my treatment I was told it might affect my fertility so was offered the opportunity to store some semen in case that happened. That story is for another time, but let's just say it was an experience. From discovering the lump to being back in the cockpit was about three months with no long lasting ill effects, apart from the pilot now needed a little left trim to compensate for the change in the centre of gravity (I wish!)
I think my matter of fact attitude to the treatment was part of my military background. If I had wanted sympathy, I would have been looking in the wrong place. Less than two weeks after my surgery, and before my all clear, my colleagues had ordered my new name badge which arrived at work: "Uncle Bulgaria" as I was now a one-ball. Thanks lads!
So last year when I saw a competition for Britain's Manliest Man I thought I would give it a go. I wanted to show that having one ball didn't make you less masculine. I have a pretty manly job; I've flown jets, I've been to war, climbed Mt Kilimanjaro, dived the Great Barrier Reef and my hobby involves wielding swords in Aikido, but I think being open about my cancer is the manliest thing I have done. I use the media exposure as Britain's Manliest Man in a light hearted way of engaging people in the conversation about testicular cancer awareness. I've been humbled and fortunate to meet real heroes - veterans from both modern and WWII conflicts, so it's difficult to take the title seriously. What it does do, is give me a great platform to TALK BOLLOCKS to anybody who will listen.
So next time you're sat with your hand down your pants and you get that eye-rolling, despairing look from your better half, just tell her you're checking yourself.