Simon Hislop: Healthy attitude acts as lesson to all men

Oxford medic has come back from testicular cancer to compete in Boat Race

Simon Hislop is uneasy about any sporting comparison between himself and Lance Armstrong but as the 27-year-old Oxford post-graduate prepares to take part in next Saturday's Boat Race there is a very good reason to mention him in the same breath as the seven-times Tour de France champion. Like Armstrong, Hislop recovered from testicular cancer to compete in top-level sport.

It was only 11 months ago, just weeks before his medical finals at Imperial College that Hislop found a lump that he feared might be a problem. "Half of me thought, 'just ignore it, it's probably nothing, get it checked out when you've finished your exams'," Hislop said. "I think that's quite a common reaction among men.

"But the more rational side of me – the medical student side – said: 'no, don't be an idiot, get it checked out.' I went to my GP. She couldn't find anything initially, but she sent me for an ultrasound scan.

"When I went for the scan I said to the guy: 'I think I might have testicular cancer.' He brushed it off, saying: 'I'm sure it's nothing, we get guys like you in all the time.' Then after 10 minutes he said: 'Yes, you're right.' To be honest I had been pretty sure it was cancer. It was a hard, painless lump."

Within five days Hislop was under the surgeon's knife, having a hernia repaired at the same time in what he jokes was a "two for one" deal. Thanks to the early diagnosis, he did not need chemotherapy.

Hislop follows cycling closely and had read Armstrong's autobiography before his diagnosis. The American's cancer was detected at a much later stage and spread to other parts of his body, threatening his life before he made a lengthy recovery. But Hislop was revising for his exams only three days after his operation, although he admits that some of his other post-surgery plans were a little ambitious.

"I had day surgery and afterwards I was slightly away with the fairies because of the morphine," he said. "I said to a friend: 'I really have to get to this orthopaedic revision course this evening. Do you think you could drive me there?' I just managed to get to the lecture theatre on time but then I had a reaction to the morphine and vomited all over the corridor. I definitely pushed that a bit too hard.

"I'd been diagnosed two weeks before a big race for Imperial. I thought I'd be able to get back in time, but that was also pretty foolish. I got back on a rowing machine a week later and after one stroke I knew I was doing the wrong thing."

How did the interruption affect his studies? "I wouldn't say it was helpful, but it chilled me out a bit. Some people get so wound up they end up revising for their finals until three in the morning. I took it a bit lighter and consequently did pretty well. I didn't worry too much about the finals because I had the cancer at the back of my mind and I didn't worry too much about the cancer because I had the finals coming up."

By the summer Hislop was back in a boat at Oxford, having enrolled at Oriel College on a one-year orthopaedic surgical research course.It was not long before he felt"completely back to normal". While it will help his medical career, Hislopadmits that the prospect of rowing in the Boat Race played a part in his decision to go to Oxford.

Having initially taken up rowing at 15 to get fit for rugby, Hislop twice rowed in winning crews at Henley and was selected in the British eight for the 2005 Under-23 World Championships, only to pull out with injury. Life as a junior doctor beckons this summer so he accepts that next weekend will probably be his swansong.

"Rowing at Imperial was great, but it's very different at Oxford," he said. "Once you're selected, everyone is just focused on this one race. Unlike any other area of the sport, you know from day one exactly who and where you're going to be racing. It's very focused and very easy to get motivated and develop team spirit."

Since September, Oxford have trained twice a day for six days a week, arriving at the gym by seven and going out on the water in the afternoon. "It's tough to get out of bed at 6.15 every morning, but you know Cambridge will be doing the same, so that's the motivation," he said.

Did he mind missing out on some other, less healthy aspects of student life? "The Boat Race is a special thing to be part of and everyone is willing to make sacrifices for that. I've also been a fresher before – that seems a long time ago – so I've done my bit. And if you go out on the lash every night, it gets a bit boring, doesn't it?"

He would also be very happy if his case serves as an example to other men. "If young guys check themselves and pester their GPs if they suspect something, then they can catch testicular cancer early," he said. "There's a temptation among men to act all macho and say 'it's nothing', but it's a problem that needs to be addressed."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: Human Resources Manager

£28000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: A successful organisation...

Recruitment Genius: Internal Recruiter - Manufacturing

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Internal Recruiter (manufact...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager (CIPD) - Barking / East Ham - £50-55K

£50000 - £55000 per annum + 25 days holidays & benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Man...

Recruitment Genius: Operations / Project Manager

£40000 - £48000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This software company specialis...

Day In a Page

The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea