By Pat Carragher - April 25, 2023
A recreational athlete, Matt Mortellaro wasn’t initially alarmed when he first noticed some swelling in his right testicle. Mortellaro, 39, plays basketball two to three days a week and participates in a men’s ice hockey league every season. The swelling could have been from an errant puck or maybe an unfortunate knee on the basketball court.
When a friend was rushed to the hospital with his own case of testicular swelling in 2018, it set off an alarm in Mortellaro’s head.
“I’d be in the shower and you’re cleaning yourself and notice that one side is getting bigger,” he said. “It kept getting bigger, and when my friend was suddenly diagnosed with testicular cancer after he had swelling, I was concerned.”
His wife, Stephanie, agreed that something looked off and the two decided it was time to see a doctor. Initial imaging revealed that the swelling in his right testicle was actually a tumor. The ultrasound also revealed a small tumor in the left testicle.
April is Testicular Cancer Awareness Month. This is your reminder to stay on top of your yearly physicals. @AmericanCancer estimates that in 2023, there will be over 9,000 new cases of testicular cancer diagnosed.#testicularcancer #testicularcancerawarenes pic.twitter.com/rUpnwV8L63— Cancer Research Foundation (@CancerRF) April 10, 2023
“That word puts fear in your head and your heart instantly,” Matt said. “My first thought was, ‘I have a wife and two kids and I’m not going to be there for them.’”
Matt’s urologist recommended immediate surgery. Before deciding how to proceed, they received a call from Dr. Wade Sexton, a senior member in the Department of Genitourinary Oncology at Moffitt Cancer Center.
“We never had any experience with cancer or having to make a rush decision to have surgery,” Stephanie said. “I just remember being amazed that a doctor from Moffitt would take the time to call us personally when we weren’t even a patient yet.”
Matt’s urologist asked Sexton to help consult on his case. Another oncologist recommended removing both of Matt’s testicles, but Sexton advised removing only the right testicle and continuing to monitor the small left sided tumor.
“We had already had a second opinion, but we were still unsure about how to proceed,” Stephanie said. “When Dr. Sexton called us, we felt confident in the action we needed to take. He assured us this was the right course of action.”
Before Matt’s diagnosis, he and Stephanie had two children. After the surgery to remove his right testicle, they were able to have a third child without needing any help with conception or fertility preservation.
According to Sexton, most men with one testicle still maintain normal fertility function. Chemotherapy, however, can impact fertility. Sperm cryopreservation can be an option for couples who hope to conceive, though it may not be covered by insurance carriers.
A year later, the small tumor in Matt’s left testicle increased in size. Sexton then performed a partial orchiectomy, a procedure for highly selected patients where the tumor is removed but the normal appearing testicle is preserved. After further surveillance, a new tumor developed in the remaining testicle, so it had to be surgically removed.
Today, Matt is cancer free. He receives CT scans and bloodwork every six months to make sure the cancer hasn’t returned. He and Stephanie want to use their cancer journey to urge other families to be aware of their own potential health issues.
“With women they tell you what to be aware of when it comes to examining yourself for breast cancer,” Stephanie said. “It would be helpful for men to know what to look for. I don’t think just saying ‘self-examine’ is enough. Men need to know step by step what to do and exactly what to look for.”
Sexton urges men to be in tune with their bodies. It starts by dropping the reluctance to seek medical care and understand and act when something is wrong.
“It’s important for a man to document what things feel like when they’re normal,” Sexton said. “That will help them realize when something is abnormal. Testicular cancer can start as a gradual onset of a feeling of heaviness or fullness in the involved testicle. It could also be a pain that they didn’t have before or more commonly a man will discover a painless mass or lump involving the testicle. Early evaluation is important to maintaining an excellent prognosis.”