MONSON, Maine — Doug Villone, 60, has taken on a campaign to stress the importance of health examinations to any man who will listen, and he does so for good reason. It saved his life.
While the Monson man said he had always worried that his wife, Judy, might become a victim of breast cancer, he never thought cancer would strike him, but it did. Villone was diagnosed last year with a rare and aggressive testicular lymphoma, but because of his quick response to the disease, he is now in remission.
“I was standing on the train tracks and I jumped off just before the train came, that’s how lucky I am,” Villone said this week in an analogy. “Had I not been vigilant in going to the doctor’s, it most likely would have been fatal.”
There are many forms of testicular cancer, but testicular lymphoma is a rare condition, according to Villone’s physician, Dr. Eric Hartz, a medical oncologist and chief medical information officer at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor.
In testicular cancer, the cells become malignant in one or both testicles. In testicular lymphoma, the cancer arises in the testicles and not in the lymph glands, as do most lymphomas.
Villone, who had a brush with death in 2004 when he was severely burned in a car fire, believes men should be as vigilant about their bodies and health care as women are. Just as there is a pink ribbon for breast cancer awareness, there should be a top hat and tie for testicular cancer awareness, he suggested.
For men who are too embarrassed to go for checkups, Villone said it’s better to lose a little dignity than a life. “We need to be able to speak frankly about these things and set aside the social taboos,” he said.
The first clue that something was wrong with Villone came in September, when he bent over to tie a shoe and felt a dull ache in one of his testicles. That and the fact his testicle was swollen sent him to a walk-in clinic where he was told he probably had epididymitis, a testicular infection.
When the antibiotic he was given failed to bring relief, Villone said, he visited his family doctor, who also suspected it might be epididymitis. As a precaution, the family doctor had another physician examine Villone. That doctor concurred that it likely was an infection but suggested an ultrasound. That ultrasound saved his life, Villone believes. When the test revealed a tumor, he had it removed about five days later and began a round of chemotherapy. He is now in remission and the only side effect from the chemotherapy is frequent hiccups.
Hartz agrees that Villone is a lucky man. Whereas testicular cancer, a germ cell cancer, is the most common malignancy in men ages 15 to 35, testicular lymphoma normally occurs in men 60 and older, and it represents about 1 percent of all lymphomas. “So he’s had a very, very uncommon cancer,” Hartz said.
In his 27 years as an oncologist, Hartz said he has had fewer than a dozen patients with testicular lymphomas, while he has seen about 50 men with testicular cancer.
Hartz, who wishes all his patients were as informed and determined about their health care as Villone is, said it is as vitally important for men to examine their testicles for lumps as it is for women to examine their breasts for lumps. “The sooner you find it [a lump], the earlier the stage it’s likely to be, the higher the cure rate,” he said.
Testicular cancer has a “very high” cure rate, and it’s the easiest to treat as opposed to many other types of cancers, Hartz said. “We have very effective treatments for testicular cancers,” he said.
Villone was very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about making sure he had the best team to communicate with and take care of him, Hartz said.
“He really cared about his body and cared about everything that was happening to him, and he was an active partner,” he said. “All those things make treatment much, much easier. In a sense he was the perfect patient.”
“By being vigilant about my body’s signs, I was able to stop the cancer from spreading,” Villone said. “If I can do that, so can every other man.”