Testicular cancer: A family's fight to honor their son

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By Johnny Rigg, MD Anderson Staff Writer

When 17-year-old Brad Coleman began having intense headaches and numbness in his arms and hands, his family took him to their doctor in Camden, Tenn.

An MRI produced normal results and Brad was prescribed a pain reliever for apparent migraines.

By the end of 2008, however, the pain became more severe even as his medication was increased.

Brad returned to Camden, where doctors discovered he had a very low blood count. They started a blood transfusion and he was transported to Vanderbilt Children's Hospital in Nashville.

In the ER, doctors discovered a mass in his lower abdomen along with multiple bleeding ulcers, which would require surgery to repair.

After several more tests and scans, they discovered Brad had lesions in his liver and lungs and two in his brain that had developed after his first MRI in October, says his father, John Coleman.

Brad was diagnosed with testicular germ cell cancer on Jan. 1, 2009.

"This was one of the worst days of our lives, knowing that our youngest child had a life-threatening illness," John Coleman says.

Despite his horrible disease, Brad remained strong and in control, helping his family as much as possible.

"Brad was a very special person. Even when he was so sick, he never worried about himself or let his sickness stand in the way," Coleman says. "He was worried about us."

'It's just a thang'

Brad's treatment began with several rounds of chemotherapy, which showed only temporary results. By mid-January 2010, doctors at Vanderbilt decided a stem cell transplant was his best option.

After six weeks in the hospital, the positive results were, once again, only temporary.

Surgery was performed to remove the mass from the high school student's abdomen. A pathology report revealed a rare form of cancer called non-sermonia germ cell cancer.

As their son's tumor markers continued to rise, the Colemans decided to come to MD Anderson.

Late into his diagnosis, doctors prescribed a clinical trial pill designed for patients with kidney cancer.

The Colemans returned home to Tennessee, but Brad's condition continued to worsen. During this resting period, Brad's headaches became unbearable. He was rushed back to Vanderbilt, where an MRI revealed nine lesions on his brain.

"When the doctors told him there was nothing else they could do for him, Brad said, 'it's alright, doc. It's just a thang,' John Coleman says. "He touched so many lives in his short life. We hope through this foundation, he can touch many more."

At 11 p.m. on June 20, Brad passed away, surrounded by his family and friends.

Foundation of knowledge
In September 2010, Brad's father founded the Brad Coleman Cancer Foundation to "provide funding for the development of educational tools that teaches children and teenagers the importance of self-examination, early warning signs and how to recognize changes to their body that are not normal."

Thousands of people are diagnosed with a form of testicular cancer each year.

With effective therapies and treatment, however, this disease has become highly curable with most cure rates exceeding 90%, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Early detection is key to treating cancer successfully. It's important to know the early signs and symptoms of testicular cancer:

  • A lump, enlargement or swelling in either testicle
  • A feeling of heaviness in the scrotum
  • A dull ache in the abdomen or groin
  • Pain or discomfort in testicle or scrotum
  • A collection of fluid in the scrotum
  • Enlargement or tenderness of the breast
Lower back pain
Conducting regular self-examinations could help identify the disease early. You should examine each testicle in search for any unusual lumps, but remember the epididymis is a pea-size lump located along the back of the testicle. Don't confuse this with an abnormal mass.

While not all lumps are cancerous, if you find one you should notify your physician immediately.

Testicular germ cell cancer is the most common type of testicular cancer and originates in the cells that create sperm. The symptom most commonly associated with the disease is a lump on the testicle, but there are other things to look for as well.

These tumors can produce the human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) hormone, which can cause a man's breasts to become tender and grow in size.

There are several risk factors you should be aware of:

  • Age -- men ages 15-35 are more susceptible to the disease
  • Family history -- disease can be hereditary
  • Race -- studies show testicular cancer more common in white men than black men.
The foundation is listed by the American Cancer Society as a source of funding and supports the works of numerous organizations.

If you would like to learn more about testicular cancer and Brad's story or donate to help detect and treat childhood cancer, visit

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