Rapper Taboo is talking about his tough battle with testicular cancer. The Black Eyed Peas member (real name: Jaime Luis Gomez) revealed in a new interview that he actually thought his cancer symptoms were the flu. “It all started with a pain in my back and abdomen,” he told People. “I was so busy working that I wasn’t worried about it, but I went to the emergency room to get checked out.” After undergoing a slew of tests, Gomez was diagnosed with Stage 2 testicular cancer.
“The very next day I went into surgery to have the ‘mother ship’ removed. But my fight had just begun,” he says. “My family and the group were all in shock, but Will.i.am instantly reached out to a great doctor who helped me figure out a treatment plan. I was racing against the clock.” Following his surgery, Gomez went through 12 weeks of “intense, aggressive” chemotherapy and is now cancer-free.
“There were times that I wanted to give up, but I became inspired by sports figures who have gone through similar battles,” he says. “I wanted to share my story and inspire others like those who had inspired me.”
About 8,720 new cases of testicular cancer will be diagnosed by the end of 2016, and 380 men will die from the disease, according to American Cancer Society estimates. Testicular cancer is not common, the organization says, but rates of the disease have been increasing for several decades. Testicular cancer largely impacts young and middle-aged men, the society reports.
Lower back pain like Gomez experienced is a sign of advanced testicular cancer, along with shortness of breath, chest pain, stomach pain, and headaches or confusion, per the American Cancer Society. However, a lump or swelling in the testicle is the most common symptom.
Flu-like symptoms—joint aches and pains, fatigue, and occasionally a fever—aren’t rare for cancers, Jack Jacoub, M.D., medical oncologist and director of thoracic oncology at MemorialCare Cancer Institute at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California, tells SELF. Cancers secrete various hormones that make you feel run-down and achy, cause general weakness, and give you a fever, he explains. However, these symptoms are pretty nonspecific. “A lot of things can present that way,” Jacoub says.
Wade Sexton, M.D., senior member in the Department of Genitourinary Oncology at Moffitt Cancer Center, tells SELF that a lot of this really depends on the type of cancer and how advanced it is. A man with testicular cancer who has fatigue and back pain likely had the cancer spread to the lymph nodes in his abdomen, Sexton says. (However, that typically also comes with a lump in a man’s testicles, he says, so men shouldn’t freak out and assume any back pain is cancer.) “It’s also not uncommon for us to see a patient with advanced kidney cancer to present with general malaise, fatigue, and even a low-grade fever,” Sexton says.
Jacoub says back or abdominal pain can also present in people suffering from ovarian, uterine, stomach, colon, and bladder cancers. Fatigue is also a big symptom, which can be mistaken for the flu, he says.
If you think you have the flu or are generally feeling ill, no need to worry that it’s a sure sign of something worse. Sexton says time is a big factor in distinguishing the flu from a more serious issue like cancer. “The flu tends to be transient—the majority of us get better over a few days,” he says. With cancer, however, your symptoms would continue for a longer period of time and typically get worse. “That would be the tip-off that maybe you’re not dealing with a run-of-the-mill flu,” Jacoub says.
If you find that you’re having flu-like symptoms that don’t get better, talk to your doctor, especially if pain is involved. While there’s a small chance it could be cancer, it could also be a sign of one of a host of other issues that can be easily fixed. Either way, it’s a good idea to get it checked out.