Men’s Health Month: ‘Typical macho man’ admits ignoring cancer symptoms

June 23, 2015 | Features, Medicine and Life Sciences, UTMC
By Brandi Barhite

Jason Scott ignored major signs that something was wrong.

He had swelling in his right testicle that he chalked up to a hunting injury.

He had back pain that couldn’t be curbed with the handfuls of over-the-counter pills he took every morning.

When the 21-year-old started to limp, he thought it had to do with falling on the ice.

Jason Scott, seated, celebrated his last day of chemotherapy at the Eleanor N. Dana Cancer Center with a cake to share with, from left, Cindy Peters, staff nurse; mother, Vicki; dad, Dan; and friend, Max Newcomer.

Jason Scott, seated, celebrated his last day of chemotherapy at the Eleanor N. Dana Cancer Center with a cake to share with, from left, Cindy Peters, staff nurse; mother, Vicki; dad, Dan; and friend, Max Newcomer.

Some of his symptoms persisted for more than a year, in particular a nagging fatigue.

It wasn’t until the Perrysburg resident woke up one morning and couldn’t use his right foot that he considered a doctor’s visit. Yet he still waited another week.

“I was a typical macho man and ignored signs that something was wrong,” Scott said. “I played football in junior high and high school. You are taught to tough it out. If I am fishing and a hook goes into my hand, I just rip it out. I don’t want to show my buddies that I am hurting.”

But he was hurting — more than he wanted to admit.

Scott was diagnosed with advanced testicular cancer in February. It had gotten so bad that the cancer had spread from his testicle to the bone in the lower part of his back, which affected his sciatic nerve and put him in a wheelchair, according to his oncologist, Dr. Roland Skeel at the Eleanor N. Dana Cancer Center at The University of Toledo Medical Center. Further tests showed that the cancer had spread to his lymph nodes and his lungs.

Scott is speaking about what he calls “his mistakes” in June because it is Men’s Health Month. He knows that men are less likely to take a symptom seriously and are more unlikely to go to the doctor’s office.

“Looking back when they told me all the signs of cancer, I was like, ‘Oh yeah, that happened,’” he said. “But you don’t think of doing anything when you are a guy and only 21 years old.”

His diagnosis forced him to take a leave of absence from Bowling Green State University, where he was studying music education with a specialization in instrumentals. He was a student teacher at Elmwood High School before cancer forced him to face what he had been ignoring.

Testicular cancer is the most common cancer in men 15 to 34 years of age. The two main types of testicular tumors are seminoma and nonseminoma. Nonseminomas tend to grow and spread more quickly than seminomas. Scott had the nonseminoma type.

“The initial treatment has more than an 80 percent chance of cure, even when it is advanced like it is in Jason,” said Skeel, professor and interim chair of the Department of Medicine. “If there is residual disease, sometimes a surgical procedure is done. In the end, more than 90 percent of people are ultimately being cured of what was once a fatal disease.”

But catching it early does help.

Skeel said that men tend to be a little more reluctant than women to pay attention to symptoms. He thinks testicular cancer is particularly difficult for young men to discuss with someone.

“Women categorize men as stubborn and not wanting to go to a doctor,” Skeel said. “It is probably true that women see physicians more regularly than men. In part, they have been accustomed to seeing an OB-GYN and getting mammograms. If you have men who have spouses, their spouses are insisting that they see physicians.”

Scott said his parents had repeatedly told him to make a doctor’s appointment. He ignored them.

“I was so far into school and student teaching, and I just wanted to get it done. It is a four-year degree, and most people get it done in five years,” Jason said. “I was on track to graduate in four years in May, and I didn’t want to take a timeout for my health.”

But the cancer diagnosis gave him no choice.

“We were totally expecting that we were going to see the doctor and he would suggest physical therapy for his back,” said his mother, Vicki Scott.

His dad, Dan Scott, remembers getting the news that his only child has cancer.

“I looked at him. He looked at me. It just seemed like our whole world went to pieces,” he said.

“I was so angry,” Jason said. “I knew nothing about cancer. The only thing I knew about cancer is that you died from it. When you think cancer, you think death sentence.”

The family immediately started trying to book an appointment for a biopsy of the tumor and begin the treatment process.

“Every day that passed, his pain was getting more and more intolerable,” his mother said. “He was to the point where he couldn’t sit, he couldn’t lay, he couldn’t sleep. He was just screaming in pain. It was so intense.”

It wasn’t until Jason talked to his friend, Max Newcomer, that they considered treatment at UT Medical Center. Max’s mom, Megan Newcomer, works at UTMC, and referred him to Dr. Prabir Chaudhuri, surgical director of the UT Cancer Center.

After his first visit with the UT Health cancer team, everything moved quickly. Jason had his right testicle removed March 2 by surgeon Dr. Khaled Shahrour. He started chemotherapy March 9. His last day of chemo was June 1.

“I went from hopping in my truck and going to Alabama to fish on a whim to having my dad help me do everything. I couldn’t even go to the bathroom without my dad’s help,” Jason said. “I literally slept for three months, and I just got out of the wheelchair a few weeks ago.”

To raise money, his friend Max sold T-shirts that reflect one of Jason’s favorite hobbies — bass fishing. The T-shirt read, “Team Jason — Reeling in a Cure.” The picture on the shirt was of a bass eating cancer.

“His battle with cancer was obviously not going to be easy, but I told him we would get through it,” Max said.

Jason said his family, friends and the UT Health doctors and nurses were the bright spots in an otherwise dismal year.

“A lot of the battle is mental, but if you have positive people on your side that really helps,” he said. “Dr. Skeel called me on his cell phone on the weekend. That is amazing.”

The irony of being treated at UTMC was not lost on the Falcon, though.

“I didn’t wear my BG gear to UTMC,” he said and laughed.

In July, Jason will have follow-up scans to check to see if the chemotherapy has successfully shrunk the tumor. He hopes for good news so he can begin a lifetime of sharing an important lesson with men his age.

“If you know something is wrong, don’t be too stubborn to do something about it,” Jason said. “I knew it wasn’t right. I knew it wasn’t supposed to be happening. But I convinced myself that something wasn’t wrong.”

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