Survivor thankful for early diagnosis
Ian Hodgkinson went to the doctor because he thought he might have a hernia. He did not - but it was a fortuitous mistake.
His doctor in Motueka sent him to Koru Ultrasound and Care Centre in Richmond, where they discovered a suspicious lump in his left testicle. It was cancerous.
Two years later Mr Hodgkinson says, "I've got one ball. I don't care. I'm alive," and has a straightforward message to other men of all ages: "Check your nuts!"
An outdoor worker all his life Mr Hodgkinson, 48, had inherited some money from his father and just gone into business as a lawnmowing and gardening contractor in Motueka when he started feeling discomfort in his groin.
He suspected that the pinching pain might have been a result of lifting some old machinery on his father's farm as the family sorted out the estate. But Koru Ultrasound instead found a lump that they "didn't like the look of" and he was soon under the care of specialist Stephen Delany at Nelson Hospital, who broke the news that he would need to have surgery followed by chemotherapy.
He also inquired about whether Mr Hodgkinson had children - he has not - and whether he wanted to - he might - and arranged for him to travel to Wellington and have sperm frozen after the testicle was removed, and before the chemotherapy began.
That was insurance in case the treatment made him sterile.
Ten days after the operation he made the Wellington trip and a week after that began 2 months of chemotherapy, driving himself backwards and forwards to Nelson Hospital.
He lost his hair and was provided with strong anti-nausea medication to help with the vomiting, which he said only happened on "six or seven mornings - I had a dream run of chemo compared with a lot of people". And he kept working, even if he could only mow one lawn or do an hour's gardening in a day.
Mr Hodgkinson had resolved at the beginning that he was going to beat the cancer. A keen fisherman, he decided to buy himself a boat during his chemotherapy. He chose an imported American model with a 115 horsepower four-stroke motor, paid for it with his inheritance and found it gave him the boost he needed to see him through.
It was a while before he felt fit again but now he's "a box of birds".
"I feel healthy, strong, the only problem I have is nerve damage to my fingertips and toe-tips from the chemotherapy, so winter's not too much fun."
He has between 50 and 60 clients now and works a five or six-day week, depending on the weather, and is hoping that a new long-distance relationship is going to blossom.
He's heard all the left testicle jokes and says he sometimes makes fun of himself, telling his mates that "I walk lopsided ‘cos I've only got one nut".
But he knows that if he had not gone to the doctor when he did, he might now be dead.
"The thing I'm thankful for, I caught it early."
The well-publicised testicular cancers of cyclist Lance Armstrong and All Black Aaron Cruden show that it can strike even the fittest of men, and at any age, Mr Hodgkinson says, and he urges all men to carry out an easy self-examination in the shower - something he had not been doing when his pain began.
"It's a simple thing to do - you've got to wash them anyway, so just take notice. It saves your life."
He says he has had wonderful care from everyone involved in his treatment and that he has learned to live more and not take things so much for granted.
"My view is, I got sick, now I'm better."
- © Fairfax NZ News