Cancer Research Campaign: This just doesn't happen to guys like me

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Dougie Bell considers himself lucky: diagnosed with testicular cancer nearly four years ago, at the age of 26, he has since made a full recovery, writes Cherrill Hicks. Yet he knows of other young men with the same disease who did not survive. He suspects some sufferers are too embarrassed to visit a GP until it is too late. "You can't afford to be embarrassed where cancer is concerned," he stresses.

Mr Bell is one of Scotland's champion bodybuilders. He trains, cycles and swims regularly in order to keep his impressive physique - a 48-inch chest with a 30-inch waist - in trim. He has always been fanatical about fitness, so it came as a shock when doctors found a malignant tumour in his right testis.

"I was on holiday, lying on the beach, when I noticed it was slightly larger than the other. My Dad had testicular cancer, so when I got back I went to see the GP, who sent me to hospital for tests. They removed the testicle the next day. The biopsy showed it to be a type of cancer called teratoma."

Despite the family history, the diagnosis took him by surprise. "I played rugby, did body building five or six days a week. I didn't smoke. I thought `this just doesn't happen to guys like me.' I felt cheated... After a while I just decided I had to get on with it. The doctors never clearly told me the prognosis, but they seemed to think I had a very good chance of recovery."

His doctors knew from blood tests that the cancer had spread, although a CT scan, which normally locates tumour tissue, was little help. "My muscles tissue was too dense for them to make much out."

He attended the Beatson Oncology Centre at Glasgow's Western Infirmary for four episodes of intensive chemotherapy. "I had to go in for five days at a time and was on a drip 24 hours a day," he recalls. "When I went in, I was fit and strong. When I came out on day five I was really run down. Your hair falls out, your stomach lining is affected, you tend to throw up quite a lot. Then I had three weeks to recover before the next dose.

"Before chemotherapy I could bench press 170 kg in the gym. Every Wednesday night I swam a mile, every week I cycled 25 miles. At the end of chemotherapy I had to stop half way up a flight of stairs.

Mr Bell and his wife Lesley had been married two years: the treatment temporarily put an end to the physical side of their relationship. "You just don't feel like sex when you feel sick all the time."

But, he says, it was all well worth it. Regular checks continue to find him free of recurrence. Lesley and he would like children, but have agreed to wait until his system has completely recovered. "I've been told there shouldn't be any problem," he says.

Once treatment ended, Mr Bell started to get fit again. "I was determined to do it," he says. "I won the Scottish body building championships in 1996 - and now I'm as fit as ever. I reckon if the cancer does come back I'll be strong enough to fight it."