A fit and healthy Australian army captain who was diagnosed with two different types of cancer within seven years has warned that ‘nobody is immune’ to cancer’ – and listed the warning signs to look out for.
At 21, Hugo Toovey from Brisbane was healthy, training in the army and enjoying a fun-filled life before being diagnosed with testicular cancer in June 2013.
Hugo said he noticed a small lump in his testicle but admitted he didn’t immediately go to the doctors to get it checked.
‘I definitely put it off for more than six months – I guess being a young, 21-year-old you think you’re invincible and these things won’t happen to you,’ Hugo told FEMAIL.
As a result of avoiding going to the doctors, the cancer spread to his abdominal lymph nodes, which Hugo said may have been avoided if he had gone to the doctor earlier.
At 21, Hugo Toovey (pictured), from Brisbane, was training in the army and enjoying a fun-filled life before being diagnosed with testicular cancer in June 2013
Hugo said he noticed a small lump but admitted he didn’t immediately go to the doctors to get it checked
Soon after being diagnosed Hugo had surgery to remove the cancer, which initiated a raft of operations to follow.
The next year in August 2014 he had a second surgery to remove all abdominal lymph nodes in which the cancer had spread, then in August 2015 he had a third surgery after his appendix burst and in February 2017 he had a reconstructive abdominal surgery.
‘I had intense ongoing chemotherapy treatments too that left me bedridden in hospital and nauseous for weeks at a time,’ he said.
‘I looked pale, I was skinny, I was losing my hair, eyelashes and eyebrows from the chemo – and people really do stare at you. It all affects you mentally,’ he said.
Hugo described the high-dosage chemotherapy treatments as ‘horrendous’ and a ‘lethal drug’, and said he struggled walking down the hospital hallways.
‘I put it off for more than six months – I guess being a young, 21-year-old you think you’re invincible and these things won’t happen to you,’ Hugo, now 28, told FEMAIL
Hugo described the high-dosage chemotherapy treatments as ‘horrendous’ and a ‘lethal drug’, and said he struggled walking down the hospital hallways
After five years of surgeries and treatments, Hugo was cleared of the testicular cancer in June 2018, but was then diagnosed with bowel cancer two months later in August.
‘I honestly could not believe my rotten luck,’ he said.
Prior to being diagnosed at the age of 26, Hugo had few symptoms of mild pains and loose bowels but said he was ‘pro-active’ about going to the doctor after ‘learning his lesson’ the first time.
‘The bowel cancer was definitely harder to experience and it was a lot more worrying because it’s the second biggest cancer killer in Australia,’ he said.
Hugo said this ‘fear of the unknown’ about whether this cancer would take his life severely impacted his mental health.
‘I had days where I said ‘I can’t do this again’ and asked myself ‘will I get through this?’
What is testicular cancer?
Testicular cancer is the second most common cancer in young men (aged 18 to 39)
The most common type is seminoma, which usually occurs in men aged between 25 and 50 years
The other main type is non-seminoma, which is more common in younger men, usually in their 20s
Testicular cancer may cause no symptoms. The most common symptom is a painless swelling or a lump in a testicle
Source: Cancer Council Australia
What is bowel cancer and is it common?
Bowel cancer is the second most common cancer in both men and women in Australia and is more common in people over the age of 50
Bowel cancer develops from the inner lining of the bowel and is usually preceded by growths called polyps, which may become invasive cancer if undetected
Symptoms include change in bowel habit, blood in the stools, abdominal pain, bloating/cramping anal or rectal pain and a lump in the anus or rectum
Source: Cancer Council Australia
He also had to live with an exposed ileostomy bag for six months (pictured), but recently had another surgery to create an internal ‘j-pouch’, which acts a large bowel continuing from the small bowel
Hugo had four separate surgeries to remove his bowel and rectum and reconstruct his abdominal region again in 2018.
He also had to live with an exposed ileostomy bag for six months, but recently had another surgery to create an internal ‘j-pouch’ that acts a large bowel continuing from the small bowel.
Hugo lost 22 kilograms while in hospital as he couldn’t eat or drink anything.
Hugo also had to live with an exposed ileostomy bag for six months, but recently had another surgery to create an internal ‘j-pouch’, which acts a large bowel continuing from the small bowel
The pain of going through both cancers changed who the now 28-year-old Hugo is today because it has altered his perspective on life.
‘From the stage of accepting death to coming out the other side has really made me forever grateful. The seven year journey has forced me to go through all of this at a young age and realise the severity of cancer,’ he said.
‘Make sure you are still looking after other aspects of your life. Please don’t ignore anything abnormal – go to the doctor if you need to. Life still goes on, so look after yourself.’
To support his immunity during the coronavirus pandemic, Hugo is maintaining a healthy diet, drinking juice supplements of fruit and vegetables and keeping ‘everything in moderation’.
To encourage the younger demographic to stay in tune with their bodies, Hugo created the 25 Stay Alive podcast to offer a platform for others to share their similar stories, experiences and knowledge.