“The Testicle Tour” by Nick O’Hara Smith

Nick O'Hara Smith - 'Survivor'

The “Testicle Tour” came to my attention early in 2009. I’d just joined Facebook to raise my profile. I lost both testicles 22 years ago and am on a mission. My sister says I am obsessed ! She may well be right.

Three months after I lost my testicles, I made a decision to abandon the life, and the lifestyle, that had taken me to the point of death. I’d lost my testicles and the Cancer was gone. Yet I’d just woken up, having attempted suicide the previous night. The reason was my hormones! You see, I’d been deprived of them for six weeks after my operation.

It had been a harrowing time, without the added problems, caused by persistent hot flashes, rage, depression, anxiety and uncontrolled emotions. Six weeks into my new “hormone regimen” of monthly injections, I’d attempted suicide. Knowing injections only kept me sane two weeks out of the four, tipped the balance between a desire to live, or not. I’d discussed it with my Endocrinologist, after the first shot had only been effective for two weeks. He’d told me he could not increase the injection frequency. I could not live a life knowing I would become mad half the time.

But I’d survived. Angry with my failure to not survive, and certain I wasn’t going to try again, I had to deal with survival. I had to find out what survival meant to me. I didn’t know, so I took it, one day at a time.

I realized there was only one way to deal with survival. I had to address the problems. I had to get my hormones right, deal with a major litigation and abandon the life I’d been leading.

I spent the first eight years in limbo as I strove to write . No matter what I tried, I could not make sense. Finally, in 1996, I started to make sense and published a website, named “The Making of a Eunuch” (TMOAE). It was first “survivor” website published on the Internet about Testicular Cancer. It told of my trials and tribulations since diagnosis. Later that year I’d joined the Testicular Cancer Resource Center as its Associate Editor.

I removed TMOAE in 2003, because I’d just authored “The Testosterone Deficiency Centre” website. I’d decided I had to focus on this issue, because it is much bigger, in terms of people affected, than most conditions, except Cancer. It has just been relaunched.
Philly Morris, the irreverent leader of the www.checkemlads.com website, which has done so much for Testicular Cancer awareness in the UK and its armed forces, is a good friend. He told Testicular Cancer survivor Darren Couchman, and co-originator of The Testicle Tour www.onelumportwo.org , of my existence and we made contact via Facebook.

The Testicle Tour originated in 2008 with a three week tour of the UK’s towns with genitalia connotations in their names. Knutsford, Prickwillow, you get the idea. They toured with giant, pink, fluffy balls attached to their backs and gained publicity for Testicular Cancer throughout the UK, with their media appearances. Awareness talks to schools and colleges followed, as Darren and his partner Richard P Miller took their humorous message to the streets. I loved the concept!

My time was my own. I’d just lost almost everything again. Another failed venture, this time in Thailand, had dumped me back in the UK, with little money, no desire to re-enter the 9-5 drudgery that had sustained me for so long and a desire to learn. My application to Bangor University was approved, so all I had to do was survive until late September, when my education would recommence, at the age of 57. I decided to help Darren and Richard with their tour, if they’d have me. I arranged to chat with Darren on the phone.

My sister Anne, sacrificed her space, to let me sleep on the couch in her living room. I obtained state benefits and looked for work. Luckily my job applications never got a response, so I could plan activities with Darren.

When we spoke on the phone, an immediate friendship was sparked, as so often happens when Testicular Cancer survivors meet. Darren told me his plan for a “Testicle Tour of London” on July 11th, Forty giant pink fluffy testicles would parade round the tourist areas of London, starting at the London Eye, naturally.

I’d recently joined the Lance Armstrong Foundation as a Community leader and spoke with Darren about my desire to get a bus sponsored to take a group of advocates to France to intercept the Tour de France on a number of stages.

I’d also applied to be a delegate at the LIveSTRONG Global Cancer Summit, which was to be held in Dublin in late August. If my application was successful, I told him, I wanted to take a bus to Ireland and intercept the Tour of Ireland too, prior to attending the Summit. Lance Armstrong was coming out of retirement, which made me determined to show my appreciation, and support, for his drive to eradicate Cancer across the world.

We agreed to get together when possible, and discussed ideas for other events. I mooted the idea of a Testicle Tour of Cambridge during the University’s May Balls (Prom) week. As I was due to move there and live in a tent for the summer, it would be no problem for either of us. Wimbledon was a definite, despite heavy doubt as to being let in with our “Testicles.” A synchronous transatlantic golf day, with American fundraising legend Bob Hammer in the USA , was also on the horizon. Then there were my plans to go “solo”.

The thought of attaching a pink fluffy testicle to my person at the age of 57, struck me as mildly undignified. However, I had to get over my nerves. I’d arranged a meeting with two old friends, who work for the Maxus Global Advertising Agency in London. Mark Robinson and Paul Capleton, who is currently going through Stage 4 Colon Cancer treatment, had agreed to help me find sponsors. It was my opportunity to travel into London by train, navigate the Underground then walk to the Maxus Offices. As I crossed Paddington station, I noticed camera flashes popping. I was dressed in a business suit, carrying the “testicle”, complete with a banner attached by my sister, proclaiming “The No Testicle Tour 2009”. I began to enjoy myself.
The sponsorship idea was shelved soon after and plans for the tour of France and Ireland with a bus abandoned. There was no available money. Anything I was going to do, I would have to pay for.

I set my first “awareness” date for May 9th, my birthday, at Lords Cricket Ground in Marylebone. England were playing the West Indies and it was a sell-out of 20,000 seats. For the uninitiated, Lords is the “cradle of cricket” steeped in tradition and stiff upper lips. I’d be lucky to get my “testicle” into the ground, due to the strict dress code. My plans were scuppered on the 8th of May when England beat the West Indies in three days, thus rendering the fourth day unnecessary.

I called my friend Al Sausse, who lives near the city of Durham and made plans to stay with him, so I could try and gain entry to the next game between England and the West Indies. It was not cheap and my funds were dwindling fast, but I went anyway. After a long discussions with Security and finally a talk with the man in charge of the ground, I was given permission to enter the ground. The day I spent there will live long in my memory as I delivered awareness whenever there was a break in play, which was often.

From there, the schedule unfolded perfectly. Darren and I did a Tour of Cambridge. This was followed by a visit to Wimbledon on men’s quarter finals day. We didn’t get in, as expected, but spent the afternoon delivering awareness to the thousands who were queuing for tickets in Wimbledon Park. The following week, I noticed a charity cricket game was being played nearby. The ad suggested Roger Daltry would be there in his guise of chair of the Teenage Cancer Trust. I wanted his signature, and got it, along with Bill Wyman’s and other celebs.

I headed to Lords again when the World 20/20 cricket championship was scheduled. I’d opted to attend a warm up day, where I was sure I’d stand the best chance of entry into the ground and doing some awareness amongst the crowd. The “stiff upper lips”, were relaxing the dress code, so I was optimistic as I headed to the ground.
I got in without a hitch!

Forty minutes later, now in my seat, I was asked to leave and talk to Security. I was told my “testicle” had to be confiscated. Despite my best argument, it was confiscated. I tried another route and thought I was getting somewhere, when the same bad-tempered, “jobsworth” arrived and scuppered that attempt. Disgusted, I claimed my testicle and left the ground to walk its perimeter, delivering awareness for the rest of the day.

I received my invitation to the Global Cancer Summit in disbelief. I really didn’t expect it.

I was determined to attend and equally determined to fund my attendance. However, my money was almost gone. Luckily, my ex-wife Sophie, decided she wanted to renovate and repair her thatched roofed home near Cambridge. We agreed a rate and I began work, renewing skills long forgotten from my days as a construction boss. I slept in my tent on the riverside in Cambridge next to our daughter Georgina’s boat. The challenge of earning enough money, to attend “Testicle Tours” and attend the Summit in August, ensured I worked hard until it was time to go to Ireland.

The Testicle Tour of London on July 11th was a fantastic success. Darren and his co-founder Richard P Miller brought 90 people together, for the 8 mile walk through the city. Forty of us carried “testicles” The tenor, Ezra Williams, a TC survivor, performed his own version of Nessun Dorma in Covent Garden, with us as his “choir”. Thousands of people were talked to, hundreds of cameras took photos , as we meandered through the streets of London.
The following week we did the Synchronous Golf day with Bob Hammer. It was another great day.

It was time for Ireland. I’d decided I would do a personal Tour of Dublin, intercept the cycling Tour of Ireland on its three stages, followed by the Summit. I had just about enough money. Thankful that I no longer drink booze, I knew I could do the trip on a shoestring.

I did what I set out to do, toured Dublin city centre with my testicle, drove to Blarney, from where I intercepted Stages 1 and 2 of the Tour of Ireland, managing to snap Lance as he rode by each time. The third day it was raining hard, so I headed to Dublin. One of the first people I met was Lynn Lane. He, Will Swetnam, Jonny Imerman, Joe Schneider, Crawford Inglis and Andy Anderson made sure I immediately felt a part of this amazing gathering.

After two days, I was happy with the whole event, but dissatisfied with myself. I had two unlikely goals. I wanted Lance Armstrong’s signature on my “testicle”. I intend to auction it. Secondly, I wanted my message to be heard as far and as wide as possible. Neither seemed likely as the final half day dawned. I’d reckoned without “Story Idol.”

The third day was for learning communication. A part of that was “Story Idol”, where we told a 1 minute story three times, to three different groups of four. At the end, we were asked to go to the person who’d told the most compelling story. As I rose, Tamika Felder looked at me and told me “Sit right there Mister”. I did and was quickly surrounded by people! The presenter asked me to go to the stage. I grabbed my testicle and got on stage. I was joined by five others. We told our stories in sequence and silence. At the end a vote was taken, unseen by the story tellers, our backs were to the audience. When we turned around, I was staggered to hear my story was the winner.

I’ve told this story before and been asked, “what did you say”. My reply was to tell them the first line. It began, “Twenty two years ago, I attempted suicide.”

I will forever be grateful to everyone for their support, particularly Darren Couchman, who let me steal his idea and take it all the way to the stage of the LiveSTRONG Global Cancer Summit. My mission to develop awareness of male Cancers and Testosterone deficiency is far from complete, but it received one hell of a boost this year.

I managed to ask Lance if he would sign my testicle, which he didn’t want to do, understandably perhaps. However, he told me I could tell everyone it is blessed. And so am I, I have survived!