Matt Cross, 39, of Raleigh, NC.
When Matt Cross found a lump on his testicle at age 35, he brushed it off as “just a cyst.” He eventually saw a doctor for an unrelated concern and was diagnosed with testicular cancer. At Duke Health he underwent a specialized surgery to remove his cancer and now, at 39, he remains cancer-free.
A Concern About Heart Health Leads to Cancer Diagnosis
In 2019, Cross was playing golf with his father when their discussion turned to health. Pointing to his Apple watch, Cross’ father explained that he was recently diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, an abnormal heartbeat, which he first discovered through the watch’s heart monitor. “He asked me to put on the Apple watch to do the little EKG [electrocardiogram], and I agreed to do it if we would stop talking about his heart,” said Cross. He just wanted to enjoy their day.
When the watch’s monitor showed Cross had an abnormal heartbeat, he promised his father he’d see a doctor. “I'd had a bump on my testicle for a number of months,” he said. “So, when I promised my dad to go to the doctor to check out my heart, while I was there, I was like, why don't you check out this bump that I have?”
Cross wasn’t concerned when the ultrasound of his testicle came back abnormal because he was focused on his heart health. That changed when a CT scan showed he had testicular cancer that had spread to his abdomen. “I actually found out on Christmas Day that I had a tumor in my stomach,” he said.
Specialized Procedure Removes Remaining Cancer
According to Duke medical oncologist, Sundhar Ramalingam, MD, testicular cancer is rare. “There are only about 9,000 cases diagnosed every year in the United States,” he said. “But the back of the abdominal cavity is the most common site of metastasis.” Chemotherapy alone can often cure testicular cancer. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case for Cross whose cancer remained after three rounds of chemotherapy.
“In some situations where the cancer doesn't respond completely to chemotherapy, it requires further surgery,” said Dr. Ramalingam. Because Cross had metastatic testicular cancer, he underwent a highly specialized procedure called retroperitoneal lymph node dissection (RPLND) during which surgeons remove the lymph nodes behind the abdomen. The procedure is only performed at large cancer centers like Duke because it requires highly skilled surgeons to ensure the lymph nodes are removed without damaging nerves, blood vessels, and organs, Dr. Ramalingam said. Proper surgical technique helps prevent injury to organs and excessive bleeding and helps preserve ejaculatory function and fertility in young men who want to have children.
Supporting Others Through Community
Since his RPLND surgery in April 2020, Cross has been cancer-free. He’s coaching hockey and formed a non-profit organization to raise awareness about testicular cancer and provide a community of support for those dealing with testicular cancer. “Now that I operate the charity, there are a lot of patients I've come across that are traveling from out of state to Duke knowing that they can get world-class care,” said Cross. “Something that's really important to a cancer patient or a cancer survivor's experience is feeling like you can go to a place where you trust people and it's personalized -- that’s what I think about when I think about Duke Health.”