“My Voice” by Brandon ‘Erk’ Erkkila

Brandon 'Erk' Erkkila - 'Survivor'

It all started in the fall of 2005 while I was attending college in Michigan. On September 23rd I was lifting weights with friends and did a little too much on the squatting rack. That night I started to get a bit still and sore in my legs and decided to head to bed. I woke up in the morning to my annoying alarm and went to move my legs and I was in a bit of pain especially in my groin area. I put my hand in the general area and where the leg meets the body I found a large egg shaped sore protruding out of my skin. I was a very healthy person my whole life and had never had any issues. I called my mother immediately and she told me to go to the emergency room. I knew that it was a hernia and knew I was going to have surgery and was scared. A surgeon in the hospital met me and said that it was just an over active lymph node and I was going to get sick, if it didn’t go down I would have to see him again in a week. So a week later when it didn’t go down I met with him again and he told me that I was pathetic and looking for something to be wrong with me and he was disgusted that I had come back to him. I left there in tears and didn’t know what was wrong with me. My mother told me to come home to see a local doctor who we had known for many years. After meeting with that doctor he said it was an overactive lymph node but wanted to know every issue with my body I could think of and as I was leaving I told him I had a small pain in my right testicle. He checked me out and said he wanted me to see a urologist just to be safe although everything was normal. The new urologist checked me and said the same but just to be safe wanted an ultrasound. On the eve of my 21st birthday I had a ultrasound done. The women doing it checked my right side and it was fine, I went to get up and she asked to do my left side just in case. I let her and she found something. The doctors didn’t know what they were seeing; they thought maybe a calcium deposit and told me to go to a specialist in Green Bay Wisconsin. The specialist said he wasn’t sure either and wanted to take the testicle out to look at it. Because of the magnitude of the biopsy I had to plan it for winter break so I wouldn’t miss school. The day after Christmas I did the surgery and woke up to half of my left testicle gone. I was so confused and told that they had no clue what it was and that they had to take half of it. They didn’t think cancer but didn’t know what they were looking at. 3 weeks go by and I head back to college for the new semester and I realize my mother is freaking out because they still didn’t give us any answers. As I was sitting in a night class at college I kept getting calls from a green bay area number so I went into the hallway to hear the doctor say “you have one of the rarest cases of testicular cancer ever found, you need to come back right away to have it removed before it spreads more”.  I didn’t know what to think, I just kept thinking about my loving mother and how crushed she would be. I went to green bay and had the rest of the testicals removed, I was then referred to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester Minnesota to continue my treatment. While there I was met by so many doctors that were just blown away by the fact that I had Stromal Cell Sex Chord cancer. It was so rare that they had no idea how to go about treating it. Luckily I’m still alive and doing well today, nothing has come back and the surgeries and treatment worked well. My moral of the story is that you have to listen to your body when something goes wrong. If a doctor says your ok and you know you’re not, get more opinions.

When it comes to the survivorship that’s the part that is the most uplifting. While I was going through everything I was approached by the relay for life group at my college and they asked me if I wanted to speak about my cancer at their event. I didn’t really want to and was afraid to talk about my testicles or lake thereof. But I did it to help out and didn’t think it went well but within a few weeks I was flooded with calls and emails to speak at other places. I spent the next 2 years traveling on weekends and speaking, mostly at colleges and high schools not just about my story but about how to deal with a diagnosis. If it happens to you or a loved one, I gave tips and hope to many people and it made me feel so good about myself and this horrible disease given to me. I have also made so many amazing friends through this journey. I made it through college and moved to Milwaukee Wisconsin where I live now, I got a degree in public health education hoping to be able to continue helping people with cancer, but nothing yet.