Just before Christmas last year, 17-year-old schoolboy William Morrison had to make the hardest phone call of his life.
Sitting in Ninewells Hospital, all alone because of Covid, William dialled his mum’s number, then his girlfriend’s, to tell them he had just been diagnosed with testicular cancer.
William, who was a prefect at Harris Academy at the time, said: “In the hospital, all alone, I remember having to phone all of my family and friends, telling them the news.
“The hardest phone call I had to make was to my girlfriend, Alesha, as I didn’t know what her reaction would be.
“Fortunately, she stuck by me and has been one of the best and most helpful support systems I have had, second only to my mum.
“I got home at 11.30pm that Friday night, knowing my life was very likely about to change massively.
“I was in shock and I couldn’t process the news. It took ages to sink in and process fully what I had been told.”
It has been a rough road for William, who is still recovering.
But, as his older brother, Nairn Brunton, embarks on a 60km challenge to raise money for the ward that looked after him during his treatment, William has decided to talk about his devastating experience.
He hopes that by doing so, he encourages other boys and young men to make sure they get themselves checked out early if they have any worries.
William had been experiencing on and off testicular pain for about a year before he was diagnosed, alongside a rapid deterioration of his mental health.
“This got to the point where I was seeing a counsellor in school and I was also on anti-depressants,” he said.
“I had also been suffering from reoccurring migraines.
“I had to be sent home from school often because of how bad they were.”
Throughout late 2019 and all of 2020, William’s mental health and migraines gradually got worse and worse, as did his testicular pain.
It was a week before Christmas last year when William got sent home from school due to his condition.
He said: “I had an emergency doctor’s appointment later that evening. The doctor checked my testicles, and it was clear he wasn’t happy with what he saw and felt.
“He said he would order me an ultrasound scan. I went home, told my mum about what happened, expecting to wait weeks to get the scan.”
However, the very next morning, William got a phone call from Ninewells Hospital saying that he was being put onto an emergency list and he was ordered in that afternoon.
“I still didn’t think anything was seriously wrong with me. After my ultrasound, I was referred to an adult ward in the hospital,” William added.
“After getting tested for Covid-19 and waiting several hours, an oncologist finally came and pulled the curtains around us.
“This is when I started to worry. He explained that they found a large and aggressive tumour in my left testicle.
“He explained that I needed to have an operation to remove my entire left testicle.
“I asked him when this operation was to be, and he said ‘tomorrow’.”
William’s cancer diagnosis came as a huge surprise and shock.
He was told most cancer cases are caused by negative and harmful lifestyles.
But he didn’t smoke, drink or take any sort of drugs and was left wondering what could have caused his diagnosis.
He had to get up early the next day to go back into hospital for his operation.
“It was quick and successful, and I got home that Saturday evening. The recovery was also swift, lasting only two or three weeks,” William added.
Immediately after his operation, he noticed his migraines had disappeared.
William’s mental health greatly improved and he felt like his old self – happy, outgoing and positive.
He cancelled his counselling at school, felt he had beaten cancer at this early stage and was ready to move on with his life.
Back to square one
But a month after the operation, William received a call from the oncology team at Ninewells Hospital, who told him that the cancer had spread to his left abdomen in the form of enlarged lymph nodes.
“I had an MRI scan to confirm, which came back positive,” he said.
“What followed was a consultation with my oncologist consultant who explained everything to me in great detail.
“She told me that I was to receive three cycles of chemotherapy, involving one of the more ruthless and unforgiving chemo regimes out there.
“The side effects are horrible, including complete hair loss, potential complete loss of fertility, achy bones, sore hands, feet, mouth and throat, potential kidney damage and scarring on my lungs, chronic fatigue, amongst other side effects.
“My regime included being hooked up to the chemo machine for three days in hospital at the start of every cycle.
“I was not allowed to change clothes or shower in these three days as the three chemicals I was receiving were all toxic.
“In between each chemo bag, I needed fluids to protect my organs, so I didn’t get a break while in hospital. And then I had top ups on days eight and 15 of every cycle.
“I have now completed all three cycles and I am just waiting to recover fully, which may take several months.”
‘William coped the best’
William’s brother, Nairn, was so inspired by his brother’s bravery, and the care he received, that he has set about raising as much cash as possible for Ward 32 in Ninewells Hospital.
He has started the fundraising drive, which will see him attempt to run 60km, and hopes to be finished by his brother’s 18th birthday on June 5.
Nairn said: “This was a dreadful time for all of us – but I think William actually coped the best.
“I can’t imagine what it would have been like being in hospital all on your own, aged only 17 and having to hear that diagnosis and then phone your family and girlfriend.
“I want to do this to thank the ward and the staff for everything they have done for William and for our family.
“My target is to raise £1000 but it would be amazing to manage even more if possible.
“It’s nothing in comparison to what the hospital has done for William but at least it’s something.”
‘Please get yourself checked’
For William himself, he still has a long way to go.
But one thing he wishes to do in the months and years ahead is raise awareness of the importance of regular checks.
He said: “I would just like to remind everyone of the importance of getting yourselves checked if you suspect anything is wrong.
“Cancer doesn’t care who you are, how old or young you are, it doesn’t care what race or gender you are, it doesn’t care if you are at school or in a care home.
“It is a cruel and ruthless thing. So, getting diagnosed early is vital in beating it, so please, please, please get yourselves checked.
“If you are a man and have any symptoms, please get checked.
“There is absolutely no shame and it’s nothing doctors can’t deal with.”