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A Story of A Mans Hell – Penis Cancer

A Story of A Mans Hell – Penis Cancer

How Artist John D Edwards Fought Off A Mans Worst Nightmare of Penis Cancer

Artist John D Edwards tells a harrowing story of how he fought his way back from penis cancer. His ordeal led him through months of chemotherapy until finally radiotherapy, suggested by the French – not only saved Edwards life but his manhood too.

john d edwards penis cancer A Story of A Mans Hell   Penis Cancer

Now all but clear of the disease that came very close to killing him, Edwards, 56, is displaying some of the paintings he created throughout the ordeal in an exhibition which will tour hospitals around London.

In a plight to reach out and give hope to other cancer patients Edwards also produced a book which has become nationally renowned. A priest from Maidenhead, UK called Edwards book a holy book of healing, “which is alright by me!” he explains happily.

It was in the bath that Edwards first discovered the lump in his groin. In a move that probably saved his life he quickly visited the doctor. He was immediately referred to a consultant who then ordered a biopsy.

penis cancer cancerous A Story of A Mans Hell   Penis Cancer

“They told me I had a malignant tumor in my lymph nodes, that it was very serious, but that they didn’t know where the cancer was coming from,” Edwards explains.

Doctors at the Royal London Hospital carried out a host of tests and biopsies. Soon, their search centered on Edward’s penis.

“They asked me if I had a foreskin, which I didn’t. Then they asked if I had ever had trouble pulling it back, which I had.”

Doctors then circumcised Edwards and discovered a redness under his foreskin. This innocuous rash was quickly identified as the source of his cancer. Edward recalls how he and other cancer patients on his ward would gather to talk about their illness in bid to boost moral.

“There were awful cases – people with eyes missing, huge growths or bits chopped off,” he recalls, “but none of them seemed fazed. Then I introduced myself. They said, ‘so, what have you got?’ ‘Oh, err, men’s cancer,’ I replied. ‘Prostate?’ ‘No.’ ‘Testicular?’ ‘No.’ they dug a bit more until I just came out and said it. ‘I’ve got penile cancer, OK – cancer of the penis!’ You could have heard a pin drop.”

Edwards then began treatment. Doctors started chemotherapy and prescribed him interferon, a stronger version of the anti-viral proteins already produced by the body.

“The first day I injected it, all my nails fell off,” he says. “It made me feel horrible.”

Edwards returned home and began to paint, “I had to paint what I was experiencing – that’s what I do,” he says.

Edwards’s rare condition made him a medical celebrity,

“A visiting consultant from France came in and asked, ‘you’re penile cancer man – can I have a look?’ I said yes, and showed him my penis ‘it feels like I’ve showed it to the whole world. He had a look and said, almost in passing, ‘In France, we would try radiotherapy with that.’

The snatched exchange would prove crucial. After three months of chemotherapy Edwards, whose frame reaches well over six foot, had become frail and grey-haired. But the worst was still to come.

“One day there was an explosion in my groin,” he recalls. “This horrible Vesuvius like a giant boil.” Edwards was whisked straight to A&E.

The eruption was cancerous and marked the potentially terminal decline in Edwards’s health. It was then that doctors confronted him with the worst decision a man could face. “They asked for permission to amputate my penis,” Edwards says.

Weak and demoralized Edwards gave them his answer, “No, I told them. I just could not face another operation.”

A consultant who Edwards later nicknamed Slasher tried to convince him, “I told him unless you can say for certain this will save me, I’d rather die with my penis on, thank you very much.”

Edwards remembered what the French consultant had said to him and pleaded,

“I said I’d heard that radiation could work, and pleaded with them to try it instead.”

Slasher relented and called off the penectomy, but the ordeal continued.

Edwards was then sent to be fitted with a mould for the radiation unit. He recalls the day with a chuckle, “I couldn’t believe there was a mould maker for penises in London. I went in there and he had these enormous moulds on a shelf. I looked at the man and said, what’s this – are these for people or for London Zoo?”

Although radiotherapy itself is painless, the side effects can be horrific. Edwards’s penis all but disintegrated before the skin could renew itself.

“It was the most painful experience of my life,” he says. But not all the effects were unpleasant, some were entertaining

“About six months later, some American collectors of mine invited me to recuperate by their pool. Every time a mosquito landed on me, the radiation still inside me would kill it. It became my party trick.”

The radiation had an equally lethal effect on Edwards’s cancer. The artist slowly regained his strength and self confidence. Finally Edward’s ordeal ended with everything in working order.

“It works fine,” he says, gleefully. “In fact, I was having an active love life throughout the experience, except for during the radiotherapy. I thought it was a bit like a footpath – if you don’t use it you lose the rights to it…..

“Cancer doesn’t like humor,” he says. “You have to decide whether to panic and fight it – I would see people come in like they’d run a marathon, who then couldn’t cope with setbacks – or to live with it. I chose to live with it and if living included death, I would do that.”

Only 400 men a year in the UK are diagnosed with penile cancer, compared with 35,000 for prostate cancer. Placed way down the list of the most common male cancers at 23 (one place ahead of male breast cancer) it is extremely rare.

It is also, says Edwards, very hard to talk about. Edwards wants his experience to serve as a warning to other men not to ignore the warning signs.

“I was amazed how many men had put up with so much before they went to the doctor…..I’d talk to people who had been bleeding when they went to the look for two years before they did anything about it.”

One of the rarest of cancers, it accounts for an average of 100 deaths a year, equivalent 0.07 per cent of the total for all cancers.
Some 86 per cent of cases occur in men aged 50 and over.
Potential causes include smoking, a weakened immune system and poor hygiene.


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