For Cancer Awareness Month, Scott Miller looks back after nearly a decade
For local television news reporter Scott Miller, his testicular cancer diagnosis and recovery became a way he could help spread the word about the oft-overlooked condition.
In May of 2013, Miller, who works for CTV London, was preparing for a trip to Disney World with his family when he found a tell-tale lump on his right testicle. In a story he wrote and recorded for CTV, the first in a series that explores testicular cancer, he said the lump was marble-sized and that it was accompanied by his testicle feeling like it was lower than it should have been and may have been disconnected from the rest of his body.
After a visit to his doctor, and a number of studies, including blood tests and an ultrasound, Miller was told he had testicular cancer. The month after he first found that lump, he was scheduled for surgery to have the cancerous testicle removed and, by that time, it had doubled in size.
While Miller’s first concern was whether the cancer had spread and what was ahead as far as treatment, it turned out that he wouldn’t need chemotherapy or radiation treatments, just “a couple months of surgery [and] recovery” and a decade’s worth of monitoring at the London Regional Cancer Centre.
For the last decade, Miller has visited the site every two months to watch for relapse, getting blood tests and x-rays. He said recurrence for testicular cancer is highest in the two years after surgery, and after five years, it becomes even less likely.
In 2014, Miller said approximately 1,000 Canadian men will get the diagnosis anually, the majority of them being younger than him as the “danger zone” for testicular cancer is in men aged 19 to 35. While being monitored, Miller said the primary nurse in the testicular cancer unit, Patrick McAuliffe, said he was seeing more and more high school students.
Miller went on to say that McAuliffe had established “Testicle Tuesdays” and “Touch it Thursdays” as a way to remind men to do regular self exams, similar to how women are encouraged to check themselves for breast cancer. Miller has taken that advice to heart, and gone on to pass it to others through not only his platform as a reporter, but also through appearances he has made speaking about testicular cancer.
When examining, men should be looking for a mostly painless and persistent lump or hard spot on their testicle, lower abdomen or scrotal pain and swollen testicles or a feeling of the testicle having dropped.
Miller said early detection is the difference between a surgery and chemotherapy or radiation, and that, with early detection, testicular cancer is one of the most survivable and curable cancers there is with a survival rate of 99 per cent.
With his years post-diagnosis follow-ups coming to an end, Miller said he’s happy to be turning the page on that particular journey, but will continue to encourage men to monitor themselves for signs of cancer.
“I haven’t had any relapses, and everything has come back clean,” he said. “I’ve officially been released from the follow-up program.”
That official release came with his doctor telling him he had been “officially cured”, which was a great moment for him.
That said, he feels like he’s been somewhat lucky, as he has a friend in Wingham who relapsed, and said that reality was always “in the back of his mind” as it would not only mean going through surgery again, but resetting the clock on that 10-year period.
“I’m not going to lie and say it’s not a thought that crosses my mind every day,” Miller said, adding the concern for relapse would be more prevalent every time he was preparing for his next check-up. “I’d start to think about it. Not worry, but be aware that this is something that happens, that the cancer could potentially come back.”
He said he was told early on that, if it doesn’t come back in five years, that’s a good sign, so when he hit his first five years with no sign of relapse, it felt good. That didn’t mean, however, that every time something felt off he wasn’t worried.
“It takes you back to that moment when you’re in the doctor’s office,” he said. “It’s a twinge that you feel and think about and that will always be with you.”
While he certainly isn’t glad he got cancer, and wouldn’t have sought it out, Miller said he’s made the best of the situation.
“I met some amazing people and made some amazing friends and felt and received some outstanding support from strangers, family and friends,” he said.
In the year following his diagnosis and surgery, Miller produced the aforementioned series on testicular cancer for CTV, starting with his diagnosis and including interviews with other cancer survivors, and it has led to some remarkable interactions, he said.
“A couple years ago, I was at an open house for something,” he said. “A lady, in her 70s, whom I’d never met, walked up to me and said, ‘Scott, how are your balls?’”
The woman had seen the series and used it as a way to talk to her sons, grandsons and cousins about testicular cancer, which is something they had never discussed before. She thanked Miller for making testicular cancer more public, as it should be a public concern.
“I still get people talking to me, telling me they talked to their kids,” he said. “It’s heartening to know you made a difference. When I think back on it, there is a lot of good that has come out of it.”
He said he’s proud of how he and his family handled it and turned what was a serious issue into something good.
After the series, Miller spoke to schools and at events about what he had gone through and espoused the values of monitoring for testicular cancer, especially in younger people.
“Admittedly, as time has passed, I’m probably not as public an advocate,” he said. “The further away you are from your diagnosis, the further the public interest tends to wane.”
He said he hasn’t been asked as often to talk about it, but he will continue to take advantage of every opportunity to tell young men to not ignore the signs.
“That’s really the danger for men,” he said. “Part of the machismo problem is that we may ignore clear and present symptoms. In most cases, if you have symptoms, like aches in your abdomen or lower-back pain, or swollen testicles, and you choose to ignore them, you could end up in a place where it’s less treatable.”
Miller’s goal is for testicular cancer to have the kind of visibility that breast cancer now has, after it was considered taboo to discuss it in the past.
“Thirty years ago, people would only whisper about breast cancer,” he said. “Now we talk about it very openly.”
He said the initiatives that made that possible should be implemented for testicular cancer.
“My goal would be to have that open and honest conversation about testicles, balls, bollocks or whatever you want to call them,” he said. “You need to be comfortable with all of it. Anything that removes some of the fear or awkwardness around our bodies will help. Testicles are a part of the body you have to look after and if you ignore symptoms and signs, it can be problematic.”
Miller said that reaching out to the younger people in that 15-35 age bracket is very important, saying that people on the younger end of that age range are just discovering their bodies and they might think that symptoms are just part of those changes.
“We have to get through to those kids,” he said. “As awkward as it might be to talk about this, they can’t ignore those symptoms.”
He said the message isn’t just for them, but for anyone, because testicular cancer can hit at any age, but is more likely to affect younger men. He said it could be especially difficult for teenagers or for men out on their own for the first time.
His own quick discovery, diagnosis and recovery was made possible by knowing someone else who had testicular cancer, which led to him knowing that discomfort around talking about the issue paled in comparison to the worst case scenario, and he hopes that, by sharing his story, others may be able to overcome cancer.
“If more people hear about my story, they might act quickly,” he said. “I’ve heard from people who found something, reacted appropriately and had a positive outcome. That’s the best case scenario.”