As part of Men’s Health Week 2015 we take a look back at a man who faced life threatening adversity head on, never stopped fighting and finished with his hand raised at the end of a long fight with testicular cancer
I had only just turned 30, for me life was just getting started. Working full-time at a major finance company, getting my master’s at night, traveling and hanging out with my friends. Then one morning I had trouble getting out of bed. I felt an unusual pain, like a hammer banging inside my lower abdomen and extending down to my scrotum. As I investigated, I noticed a small lump near my right testicle. The pain lasted several minutes then went away. It returned several hours later. Suddenly, I had trouble walking, sitting and kneeling. I called my doctor and made an appointment for the next day. That night, I searched the web for a condition to explain my symptoms. Everything I found pointed to testicular cancer. I was freaked out. In my gut, I felt like I already knew the answer. I knew about the disease and all I could think was, “will I die from this?” The doctors visit included blood work, a chest X-ray, along with the doctor poking my stomach, back, and scrotum. My self-diagnosis was confirmed: I had Stage 1 testicular cancer.
The good news: almost 90% of testicular cancers are curable when caught early. The bad news: the tumor had to be removed before it spread to the rest of my body including my lymph nodes and turned into Stage 2 cancer. As I left the doctor’s office, I was confused and angry – how had this happened? I was physically fit, worked out all the time, didn’t smoke or do drugs. I felt like everything I had done was for nothing. How did I manage to get life-threatening illness when others around me who abused their bodies didn’t even catch the flu? After getting over the initial shock and anger I followed the doctor’s orders and scheduled surgery to have the tumor removed. This would be followed by six to eight weeks of radiation. When I was younger, I had been an amateur fighter; it taught me to control my fears, remain calm and prepare myself for adversity in, and out, of the ring. I drew upon those lessons so that I would not feel overwhelmed emotionally, at the potential outcomes that lay ahead. I psyched myself into believing and feeling this was like any other challenge. Mostly, I wanted to get it over with and get back to normal. Later I realized that what I used to know as “normal” would not really be the case for me going forward.
After the surgery, I was in severe pain. I could barely walk and had trouble sleeping. I was grateful that my cousin Linda, the first person I trusted to tell what was happening, drove me to the hospital, stayed with me there and drove me home. She was a nurse and would be aware of things that I wasn’t in case anything went wrong. At my follow up appointment, the doctor informed me radiation was no longer an option. After examining the tumor and conducting additional tests he learned it was an aggressive germ-cell tumor. He strongly believed the cancer had already started to spread and was possibly Stage 2. He recommended another surgery, Retroperitoneal Lymph Node Dissection (RPLND). It would involve cutting me open and removing the abdominal lymph nodes; it had high risks including nerve damage that could cause infertility, potential immobility, bowel obstructions, and two to three months of recuperation. The doctor was very honest and recommended that I get a second opinion because of how serious the procedure was.