Brian Argrave was in his mid-30s when he found a swelling on his right testicle. It grew to the point where it was painful to walk, but even then he only went to the doctor when his wife, Jill, insisted. Cancer was diagnosed and he was admitted to hospital for an orchidectomy - removal of a testicle - followed by radiotherapy that left him bed-bound for six weeks and feeling below par for a year.
His sons Gary and David - then nine and seven - knew he was ill, but he did not tell them what was wrong. "They were too young to understand, and male cancers weren't much talked about in those days," he says firmly. But even as they grew into their teens, Brian, of Caversham Park, Berkshire, said nothing: "It's such an intimate thing and I don't think it's easy for men to talk about." He simply couldn't have imagined talking seriously about self-examination with his lads.
It was a decision he regretted bitterly when David, at the age of 18, told him he had testicular cancer that had gone to his chest - and that he had been booked into the Royal Marsden hospital in London to be operated on the next day. David says: "I was getting increasingly short of breath, and then I started coughing up blood. That was when I told my mother and she said she was taking me to the doctor immediately. I had a lump in my testicle but I ignored it. I suspected something might be wrong but I couldn't have imagined telling anyone."
Brian, a large, muscular man with a ready smile, becomes very serious as he thinks back to this time: "I was devastated, terrified and so upset for him. I was very well aware that if I had told him about my cancer he might have felt able to come and tell me something was wrong much sooner. As it was, he was as ignorant as I was about testicular cancer when I got ill." Jill adds: "David's cancer was much more severe than Brian's was, and I shudder when I think he might have gone on leaving it." It was then that Brian told David about his illness: "It just poured out. I hoped it would help him because there I was, alive, and I knew how frightened he was that he would die. He went into a very bad depression."
The Argraves' lack of communication is all too common. Research at the Royal Marsden has shown that men find it difficult to discuss their cancers - particularly testicular cancer - with family and friends. Medical sociologist Clare Moynihan, who conducted the study, says: "The men interviewed knew nothing about testicular cancer, even though two-thirds told me they had a relative with it. Some were aware that, for example, their father had had testicular cancer and had been given radiotherapy, but knew no more than that. None had been told about examining themselves, what a lump might mean or that the most significant risk factor is undescended testes, with 10% of patients having a history of this."
Such is the taboo on men talking about it, says Moynihan, that one 17-year-old who contracted testicular cancer didn't tell his father - even though he was in charge of a cancer unit. Yet the importance of men - particularly young men - being informed about the disease cannot be overstressed. It is the commonest form of cancer in men aged 20-35 and has been found in boys as young as 15; one in 500 men will develop it between the ages of 15 and 50.
The incidence of testicular cancer has risen steadily over the past 20 years, but nobody knows why. It appears to have a strong genetic link: first-degree relatives - brothers, fathers and sons - of victims have up to a 10% risk of developing it, according to the Institute of Cancer Research, whose Everyman month - focusing on male cancers - starts tomorrow.
David and his father have become zealous campaigners, determined to ensure that male cancers are brought out into the open and given the sort of attention that breast cancer gets. They have taken part in genetic tests at the Royal Marsden and the John Radcliffe hospital, where the genetic link is being researched.
Brian acknowledges that he might have found it easier to slip his sons a few leaflets than to attempt a t te-à-t te . The irony is that he and David are much closer now because of their experiences. Sitting by his son, Brian says: "It hit me the instant David told me about his illness that he could die and there was nothing I could do to protect him. If anything convinced me that keeping quiet because it feels easier is wrong, that was it."