April 16th, 2001…the day that changed my life.
It was an early Sunday morning and I was on my way to work. I noticed a small lump on my neck. I didn’t think anything of it. I went along with my day, but the lump kept getting bigger. By days end, I had a lump the size of a golf ball on my neck. After numerous doctors’ appointments and a biopsy, it was determined that I had cancer. At the age of 21 I was diagnosed with Testicular Germ Cell Cancer. Unlike Testicular Cancer, I did not have any pain or swelling associated with my testicles, just a small spot that could only be seen after an ultrasound was performed. The cancer was in late Stage 3, early Stage 4. After a CAT scan, chest x-ray and an MRI, they found tumors in my neck, chest and stomach, around my heart and in the tops of my legs.
I didn’t know what to think, what to feel or even how to react. I was numb. When you hear the word cancer, you think of older men and women. Not a 21 year old male, in great shape and great spirits. And so the process began…
I started chemotherapy within two weeks of being diagnosed. I didn’t know what to do. I just sat in a chair and watched the little drops of medicine flow thru the IV and into my arm, praying that this worked. I was the youngest person in the room; the closest person to my age was 44. I had no one to talk to. I felt so alone.
After what felt like an eternity of chemotherapy and weight loss and hair loss, I had to build myself back up for surgery. Luckily, I was referred to Dr. Ihorn. If you are not familiar with this name, he developed the “cure” for testicular cancer. He was Lance Armstrong’s doctor. I was shipped up to IUPUI, a medical university in Indiana. Once again, more CAT scans and more blood work, more needles being poked into me. By this time it was all second nature.
The night before my 13 hour surgery, I couldn’t sleep. I just lay there, staring at the white ceiling in the hospital room. Around five a.m. the nurses came in; the prep began. There were actually about four nurses, four students and two different surgeons. Everyone hovering over top of me, talking, poking, planning…I felt like a doll. The last thing I remember before my surgery is sitting up on the operating table, looking around at all the people in the operating room. (From what I can remember, there must have been about 25-30 people in the room, most of them students.) A cold hand on my shoulder, I look to my left and see the epidural needle…all I could think was, “How is that going in my back.” Well I didn’t feel it. They laid me down, put on the gas mask and said count backward from 10. I remember making it to…tehh….and that’s it.
Five days later, I wake up in the ICU and the story of my survivorship begins. The surgery was a success. All tumors removed everything normal, now the long road to recovery. I spent another 10 days in the hospital. Tubes in my chest, IVs still in my arms but I was alive. I went thru hell the next few weeks after surgery. I was in constant pain and had to deal with some abnormalities but I was here. After a few more trips up to Indiana and a few more visits to my oncologist, I was “released.” Still going back every three months for blood work and CAT scans, but I could finally get my life back on track.
April 17th, 2002…not again
It was a Monday morning. I remember as if it were yesterday. I was finally ready to put the past year behind me. Even though I don’t remember most of it, chemo was an everyday thing and became a job to me. Couldn’t tell you how many times I was knocked out for surgeries. As for how many gallons of barium I drank for CAT scans, not even going to guess. I got ready for class and looked in the mirror one last time…and there it was again. That lump. I just starred at it. Thinking, “Are you kidding me, not this again?” Exactly a year later from when the first one appeared; another one. My heart dropped as a tear began to slowly fall from my eye. I took a deep breath, collected my thoughts and prepared myself for the worst.
Once again, more blood work, another needle, more CAT scans, and another half gallon of barium down the hatch. All the blood work came back negative. The CAT scan only showed one tumor the size of a baseball in my shoulder. I went in for yet another surgery, another time knocked out, another day I will not remember. The tumor they removed was benign. I was so relieved.
So the road to survivorship begins again. Going to numerous doctor appointments the next three years every three to six months, blood work and CAT scans each time. Every test came back negative. In August of 2006 I was placed in remission. I still see my family doctor on a yearly basis for blood work and a checkup, but everything is normal.
As much as I felt alone when I was going thru this whole ordeal and as far as I could have removed myself from everyone around me. I still had constant support from everyone. My family and friends were always by my side. From my friends shaving their heads when I lost all my hair; to my work collecting money for me to help with bills when I was out and I owe so much to them, I owe them my survival. Without them, I would not have made it.
April 16th, 2009….8 years later…
Three years of remission under my belt. I still have that constant concern in the back of my mind. When will you return? I still have one unanswered questions…why me? I still have issues that I deal with on a daily basis. I am finally overcoming the depression that I went thru, but each day gets better. Everyday I wake up and I thank god for getting me thru it all.
Not many people can say this…but I can say it proudly…
I AM A SURVIVOR!