Men need to be more proactive with their health, says county footballer Damien Burke

County football star Damien Burke pictured with Richard Flaherty, CEO of Cancer Care West at the launch of Catch It Early.

County football star Damien Burke pictured with Richard Flaherty, CEO of Cancer Care West at the launch of Catch It Early.

It is Tuesday afternoon and the sun is shining brightly at Pearse Stadium.

County football star Damien Burke is in top form.

He is in tremendous physical condition, apart from a pulled muscle in his quad, that will have to be minded before Galway’s clash at the same venue on Sunday week against Sligo in the Connacht club final.

He swigs from his bottle of water and we talk football.

However that is not why we are there.

Instead Burke has bravely come forward to tell the assembled media about his recent rattle with testicular cancer and how it affected him from September to December last year. His reason for being so public with his story is his desire to let men know that they need to be much more active and proactive as regards their health and specifically with testicular cancer.

His story is a simple one, and one worth reading.

“Last September and October I noticed one testicle was larger than the other. It was also very hard and felt like a dead weight. But, I felt no pain and being very very busy with work and football and being a typical man I left it for a few months before doing anything about it. That was a bit silly in hindsight, as at the back of my head I thought the swelling might be testicular cancer, but I was hoping it might just go away. I know that was naïve, but I just put it on the long finger.”

But it did not disappear. Instead, the hardness and soreness got worse and he started experiencing severe pain in one of his testicles.

“The swelling and uncomfortable feeling continued for a few months until one night in December while attending the club sports stars awards the pain became so bad I told a close friend and decided to make an appointment with Ja Duignan, my local GP in Tuam, the following day. I had a suspicion it might be testicular cancer as I was aware of GAA players like Mayo’s Ronan McGarritty and Galway’s Aidan Donnellan having had the same cancer in the past few years.”

Following the examination Dr Duignan advised Damien there was nothing serious to worry about and made an appointment for him to see a consultant for further examination at University Hospital Galway. The GP suspected Damien had testicular cancer but did not want to alarm him until his visit to the hospital, which he booked within three weeks. In hindsight Burke said he is grateful he did not have to worry during that time.

Damien recalls that at one point while sitting in the counsultant’s waiting room at University Hospital Galway for his appointment, he was very close to getting up and leaving without seeing the doctor but is so relieved now that he stayed.

“I was on a day off and had intended to go to Dublin that day. But luckily I stayed to meet he consultant who was incredibly professional and thorough.”

As soon as he examined the swollen testicle the consultant, Dr Durcan, booked an immediate ultrasound and afterwards confirmed that Damien had testicular cancer.

He was admitted later that evening and had surgery the following day to remove the testicle. Thankfully the testicle was successfully removed with no sign of further cancer. The fact that the cancer was diagnosed early was a major factor in the success of the surgery and for Damien’s long-term prognosis.

Damien acknowledges the exceptional care he received from Dr Durcan and his team throughout his hospital stay. Instead of choosing radiotherapy Damien has opted for monthly chest scans and blood tests for his first year post-surgery. In the second year he will be checked every two months and in the third year every three months. Damien also has a CT scan every three months and his prognosis is very good.

During the entire experience Damien focused wholeheartedly on returning to normal life very quickly, rejoining the Galway Senior football panel and he is looking forward to a healthy and happy future.

The night after he was discharged, at Christmas, Damien met up with his Corofin team-mates to celebrate and three weeks later he was back training with the Galway Seniors.

Damien’s mother recently visited her GP at the same medical practice Damien first presented his symptoms to, and she was told that there has been a huge increase in young men having testicular check-ups since Damien’s experience.

As someone who has been through the testicular cancer experience, Damien stresses the need for early diagnosis.

“I would encourage men who experience any unusual or similar symptoms to my own, even if the pain is not constant, to arrange a check-up immediately with your GP. It could save your life by catching it early. Treatment for all cancers has improved dramatically over the past few years, but the secret is to try and catch it early. Everyone needs to be vigilant. So if in doubt, get it checked out.”

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