cancer blog photography cheltenham gloucestershire testicular cancer story

Photography Fighting Cancer – Part 1

Fear & Fight

Many of us know how high the likelihood is that we will be effected by, or even diagnosed with cancer in our lifetime, but despite this I don’t think we ever really expect it to be us. I certainly didn’t at age 34, with a busy life, a full time job, young family and a fledgling photography business.

In the middle of August I found a lump on my right testicle whilst watching the Great British Bake Off (don’t ask), 18hrs later I was in the doctors being inspected, and 5 weeks to the day later I was sat on my sofa watching the Great British Bake Off feeling rather sorry for myself having had the testicle removed that afternoon.

Rewind to the first two weeks after finding the lump, they were frankly some of the most unpleasant I have experienced, the unknowing and thoughts you have obout your future are simply terrifying. You cling to the little things for some sanity, and these dark times do have the potential to produce some more amusing moments when looked at in retrospect, if not at the time. After my initial inspection I was told to sit in the waiting room whilst the emergency practice waits for my normal doctors surgery to ring back to get things logged. The phone rings on the reception desk where the doctor goes on to describe how “Lee Hawley has a sinister lump on his right testicle…” in full view of the entire waiting room, of which I was the only man amongst 3 women and 2 children. So it didn’t take Sherlock Holmes to guess who Lee Hawley was!

Things went into limbo for a few weeks whilst waiting for a Urology appointment. I have no shame in admitting I was scared. Going about life like nothing’s wrong, colleagues, friends and family unaware of this huge invisible weight of unknowing was challenging, but I felt I had to keep it quiet as it seemed unfair to inflict this worry on others until there is something concrete to tell them. At this point I had no idea how early I had found the lump, whether it had spread, and would I see my sons 2nd birthday.

This is when photography stepped in as a psychological life line. When I am off taking photographs I am completely absorbed in that process. My mind is washed clean as I concentrate on what I am shooting. Finding something interesting in the mundane, or capturing natural beauty as well as you see it in person. It is a part of cancer that is so difficult to cope with, as physically I felt absolutely fine which only made my experience all the more confusing due to its almost invisible nature.

cancer blog photography cheltenham gloucestershire testicular cancer story

Having had blood tests and a CT scan I at last saw a Urologist who was able to review all my results and ease my worries as much as possible. She told me that I had caught it early which is a big plus, and that I would have surgery within 2 weeks. I now had a plan, and I like a plan. It was at the point with the cloud lifted slightly that I told friends and family. With it out in the open, and a plan in place I felt much better about things. Support from family is priceless, as is banter from friends. I’ve never been compared to Hitler until now!

Surgery day came, and everyone at Cirencester hospital was fantastic, I felt thoroughly cared for and that I was in safe hands. A few hours later I came too, one ball lighter & staggered how high and large the incision was. Shortly after I was being driven home by my wife, cursing my cars stiff suspension!

For the 4 weeks after my surgery I was in quite a lot of pain, more than predicted, which was most frustrating as the recovery time is usually around 2 weeks. So I went back to the doctors to get their thoughts, which brought an amusing moment in an otherwise fairly serious and joyless time. I had my one yr old son with me in his little trike (the only thing that will keep him still!) so of we rolled into the doctor’s office. The doctor was no more than mid-late 20’s, female and pretty. By this point I had grown used to every tom dick and harry fondling my bits in the name of their profession, but there was something of an out of body experience to being lead on the bed stripped from the waist down, a pretty doctor playing with my remaining ball whilst my son is sat in his trike behind pulling on her skirt shouting “brum brum brum”!

But anyway, after getting another doctor in to have a look(!) they determined id suffered some nerve damage, and with some more pills and a bit of time, all would be well.

cancer blog photography cheltenham gloucestershire testicular cancer story

As an active person it is mentally very challenging to rest up for days on end, and not being able to get out to take some photos or even bend down to take a shot of my son was frustrating. I did get some relief through editing my photographs though. Hours can pass without a thought of my worries as I am lost in a world of white balance, tone curves and exposure. There is always something to learn too, which can be genuinely quite exciting, even resulting in the odd adrenalin hit as a new tweak makes an image “pop”.

After a week I did hobble the 50 odd meters down our lane to snap a shot inside the village church. Even as an atheist I love churches. Their history, architecture and beauty are almost unmatched to the point that even I can understand the spiritual feeling believers get.

cancer blog photography cheltenham gloucestershire testicular cancer story

5 weeks after my surgery I met with the Urologist where I expected to hear how the surgery went, the results from test conducted on the testicle, and the plan going forward, as we know, I like a plan. The news was mixed. She was happy everything had been removed, although the tests showed 95% of the cancer cells were the less desirable ones. This meant I may be put forward for Chemotherapy, but I would need to see someone else about the details of if, when, how much and what it would mean for life and work impact. I left this appointment deflated and disappointed. I am generally a very positive person, and could see the good news in what had been said and I wasn’t worried about having further treatment, but I was upset I didn’t have the next phase mapped out yet. Sadly I have learnt this is part and parcel of what having cancer is – the waiting and the unknowing.

I have also learnt how the psychological battle is as great as the physical one. Apart from the surgery I still felt fine, yet my tolerance levels were definitely suffering, as was my ability to cope with life’s challenges as it feels like everything is working at capacity to keep your mind on an even keel. I didn’t realise this until something fairly mundane would go wrong, and you’d realise you are struggling to deal with it, wishing more than anything else to just walk away from the situation. This is again where having an escape helps, and photography does just that. It’s something I am responsible for and in control of with no reliance on external factors, and can get a buzz from creating something.

Next was another period of waiting. The surgery now behind me, and the next meeting possibly giving me the all clear to get on with life, or hold details of further treatment. A meeting I would once again have to wait for and remain in limbo. Which is where I will leave you with part one of this blog.

Thank you for taking the time to read. Please feel free to click “Like” or  “Share” below, and keep checking back for part two soon.

Posted by Lee Hawley


Keep up the positivity and your lovely blog! Really enjoyed reading and keeping everything firmly crossed for what your beautiful sister said earlier that by Xmas all will be in past! Kick cancers ass lee…. you can do it!

Thank you, it helps hearing such nice comments.

Debbie Taylor

So sorry to hear this Lee, keep getting inspiration from your amazing photography and beat this cancer! Much love to the tree of you x

Thanks Debbie for your kind words. Couldn’t do any of this without all the support around me.

Lesley Barthorpe

So sorry to hear your news Lee. Lets be positive and believe the worst is behind you and you have a bright photograph filled future ahead. One of life’s challenges which you will beat. Sending lots of love from us all – especially the Tilly Tillster who gets more awesome every day! xx

Thanks Leslie. Hope everyone is well.