Torsten Koehler credits primary school sex education as the reason that he overcame testicular cancer. “In 1995 I was a primary school biology teacher. I bought a book written for school children to teach them the basics of sex education. The book had a section on testicular cancer and mentioned that it was most prevalent in men aged 15 to 38,” the 50-year-old relates.
After reading this, Torsten (aged 30 at the time) immediately checked his own testicles and discovered a lump in his right testicle. “Being a typical male, I tried to ignore it for a while, but then I started worrying too much, so a week later I went to see my GP. On Tuesday I went to see a cancer specialist and by Friday I was admitted to hospital to have my right testicle removed,” he says.
The rollercoaster of cancer treatment
Although the surgery and diagnosis came as quite a shock, Torsten maintains that the chemotherapy and the emotional rollercoaster that followed were far worse. “Chemotherapy is a vital part of your treatment plan, but I must admit that it made me feel awful. Usually you go to hospital when you’re sick and then you come out feeling better. Chemo is the exact opposite – you go to hospital feeling great and you leave feeling terrible,” he quips.
Torsten maintains that one of the best things he did to keep himself sane was to talk openly about his cancer to everyone who asked. “I lived in a very close-knit community in Namibia, so soon everyone knew about my diagnosis. I made an effort to talk to everyone who asked about my condition. Talking was part of my therapy,” he says.
He also found comfort in writing about his diagnosis, recovery and emotions. “It started out with me writing letters to a friend in Germany and, before I knew it, I had written a book. It was never my intention to write a book, but it was vital for my recovery – by writing things down I was able to ‘lay them down’ and deal with them,” he says. His book, Love your nuts, was originally written in German, but was translated into English in 2011 and is now available via his website (www.love-your-nuts.com)
A new, healthy life
Since his recovery from cancer, Torsten is far more conscious of living as healthily and mindfully as possible. “When I moved to Cape Town from Namibia, I weighed close to 100kg, but then I started eating healthily and exercising and I lost 13kg. I also ran my first Comrades Marathon in 2011. Everyone warned me how tough it would be, but I kept telling them ‘Cancer has made my mind strong,'” he says.
Torsten says his experience with cancer was difficult and he wouldn’t wish it on anyone, but he’s grateful for the lessons it taught him: “If you don’t like something, change it. Make sure you’re really living, not just breathing. And love your nuts – make sure you check your testicles once a month for any lumps, swelling or a ‘heavy’ feeling.”