Friday, February 11, 2005

My Cancer Story

I have been asked a few times, and most recently today, about my cancer story. I could not find any reference in Poetic Leanings to where I told the entire sordid tale, so how about now. I have spoken before thousands at American Cancer Society benefits, so why not those handful of kind folks who stop by this blog and occasionally (some of you have even become friends) say hello.

I have dealt with back problems since 1998. As a result, before my surgery to deal with that issue, instead of running, I had started to ride a Life Cycle in the gym in my condo complex. One evening in late January of 1999, I road the bike and the next morning I noticed that my left testicle was larger than the right one and a bit sore, too. It was a Friday and it took me the better part of that day to really wrap my mind around what the deal was and that it was not a passing nothing. Part of me figured I bruised the little feller. Can you do that? I am a guy, and I don't even know for sure!

That night, I googled a bit and hit WebMD and I began to grow scared. A lot of signs were pointing to it possibly being cancer. Oh shit!

After back and forth worrying and talking to family, I put a call in to the urologist I had seen a few years back for a kidney stone (to know me is to know that I have seen pretty much every type of doctor this side of a gynecologist!). He told me to come to his office first thing Monday morning, February 1, 1999.

As I am a Big Brother, I spent that afternoon hiking with the boy I saw each week at that time. We hiked through a local park. Here I am, man with a giant testicle, and I walked approximately 10 miles! I am a tough bugger, no?

Monday morning, the doctor checked me out and was concerned enough to send me across the street to the hospital for an ultrasound. Nothing like having someone rub your testicle with jell in a freezing cold examination room!

Later that day, the detached and cold doctor told me, "You have cancer." Man, if those are not the hardest words to hear. The jerk offered no sympathy or encouragement. Nor did he tell me any facts or figures (more on this below). I cried for a minute or two, a nurse was supportive and then I was told what was next by that same individual.

The next day I went in to work. I am an accountant for a municipality, and at the time, the town was Republican leaning. I called everyone into my boss's office, about 25 people, and told them what was going on. Since they know I am a Democrat, I said the following: "Just because I will be leaning a bit more to the right, does not mean I will be leaning a bit more to the right." Left testicle, remember?

Wednesday was spent on pre-admission testing and Thursday I worked. The good news was that my brother in law, a doctor, has a cousin who is a urologist and he was relaying information to me. Testicular cancer has a 98% cure rate. I would be in and out of the hospital the same day. I would have a few weeks to recover, have a CT Scan and then, given the 20% chance of recurrence if I did nothing, would likely undergo radiation for a month to vastly improve the percentages. He also passed along that there are two types of testicular cancer. The first, seminoma is the better and less invasive and represents about 80% of the cases. The other type, non seminoma is more invasive.

On Friday, February 5, 1999, I went into the hospital by 7 A.M. Various prep work was done and I had my surgery around 11 A.M., if I remember correctly. When I woke up, I was so groggy and the nurses gave me some ice to chew on. My mom was allowed in and she told me that she had pried out of the doctor that I had seminoma and tests indicated it had not spread.

I went into the recovery room, where they give you some orange juice, you remain hooked up to an IV and you hope to pee so you can go home. The doctor visited and coldly said little. I kept drinking and walking around, wishing for the urge to purge. Nothing! Finally, I noticed a sign on the wall during one of my walks and turned to my mom and announced, "No wonder I can't pee! I'm not following the evacuation route!" I swear to God that I was out of that hospital ten minutes later!

You are sore as hell for quite a few days, as you can imagine. I was black and blue, but just so everyone understands, the testicle is removed from above. The incision is actually diagonally above to the left, just below my belt line.

Funny story, a female that I have always had a crush on came to visit a few days later and saw how uncomfortable it was for me to sit down. She asked if there was anything she could do to make it better. I just smiled.

I missed one week of work, had the CT Scan which showed nothing, and headed back to work. A few weeks later, I went to see the radiation oncologist. I was to undergo 17 treatments of radiation, totaling 2550 RAD. Each day after work, I drove myself to the hospital for treatments. By the second treatment, I was either spending a good 30 minutes vomiting each night or enduring dry heaves. I could have a bagel for dinner after that. Each morning, I tried to load up on food, but I still lost about a dozen pounds. I am proud to say that I did not miss any time at work until the last 1 1/2 days of treatment and then returned the following day.

I recovered for the most part in about a month, strength and weight-wise, but cancer gets into your head, too. I would have false symptoms from time to time in the other testicle. A stomach ache had to mean cancer. Finally, a bad reading on a blood test sent me into New York for a second, or third really, opinion from Sloan Kettering. I was fortunate to meet with a Dr. Bosl, who is one of the leaders in testicular cancer in the country, if not the world. I was only able to get in to see him through a referral from another patient of his whose life he saved.

Dr. Bosl gave me a clean bill of health, solid prognosis for the future and best wishes. He said everything up to that point had been done perfectly and I was going to be fine. I slowly started to believe that and the fake symptoms went away.

After all of that, I had regular appointments with my oncologist for blood work and a full check up. I also had a chest x-ray each time. The visits become less frequent over time and are now down to once a year.

I am also a trained mentor to assist other testicular cancer patients, although the chance seldom arises due to men being afraid to talk about this subject. I volunteer with the American Cancer Society in other capacities, too. One effort has been a few public speaking engagements, where I have spoken to as many as several thousand people. I performed my "Bounty of Cancer" poem on more than one occasion, and it has a great story, as part of the link, that adds to this posting.

So, here I am today, cancer free. I talk openly about this, as is obvious, and will entertain and answer any questions, either in comments or E Mails if you want privacy. I joke about it, too, so fire away. Oh, and if someone tells me I am gutsy, like, "Man, you have balls," I respond, "No, just ball."

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