“My Voice” by Andrew Gemmell

Andrew Gemmell - 'Survivor'

I still remember March 26th 2008 like it was yesterday, it was a month before my 22nd birthday and I was exhausted from work. Being so tired, I had decided to go to bed rather early the night before. Unfortunately, sleeping was something I was not going to be doing a lot of that night. I woke up very early with a dull ache in my left testicle.

I remember saying to myself, “huh, I must have hit it somehow while I was sleeping”, and then immediately after that I thought about how my brother said it felt when he decided to go to the doctor. My brother, who is eight years older that I am, had Testicular Cancer almost 6 years earlier. So immediately I called my mom, and asked her what Jamie had said it felt like, and she told me I should really call my brother. I still remember calling him and going,

“Uh Jamie, so I have a weird question.”

To which he responded with a laugh, “ok.” So I asked him what it felt like, and after her explained it to me I began to worry a little bit. After getting off the phone with my brother I decided to lie down again, and call the doctor when I got back up. After sleeping for a few more hours I woke up, and called my family doctor. When I saw him he told me that it would be unlikely that it would be painful, but other people had told me otherwise. So after leaving there I headed off to a fun day of blood work and ultrasounds and scans.

After the scans and the blood work and the ultrasound came time for me to wait. I sat in the waiting room for what felt like half a day, but was actually only about an hour. During that hour I told myself over and over again that there was no way that I had cancer, but when they called me to the desk because my doctor was on the phone I knew my life was about to take a turn.

So of course that day I found out that I did in fact have cancer. Two days later I was in the hospital as an outpatient having a left sided Orchiectomy. Now the thing that was strange to me about this is I kept a positive attitude through the whole process, I never really got down on myself because I had found out I had cancer. In the past I have had to deal with Heart Disease being born the Tetrology of Fallot, a congenital defect that they repaired when I was eight months old, but not without complications. After having the surgery I had third degree heart block which meant I would need to have a pacemaker for the rest of my life, and limit myself in my activities. I have to admit, before I found out I had cancer I would feel bad for myself because of my other problems.

Now is a completely different story, I do not feel bad for myself because I have heart disease or because I have cancer. I am currently receiving chemo treatments every 2 weeks to fight a re-occurrence of the cancer I had before in my Para-Aortic Lymph Node. On October 16th 2009 I found out that it had come back, and that it would mean that I would now need to go through treatments. I can’t say I didn’t cry when I got that phone call. I had been going through scans and blood work every 3 months for about a year and six months, and never really expected for it to ever come back. Both times that I have found out that I had cancer I was alone. I think this has made me the survivor that I am today. I never really thought of myself as a survivor, not until I have been going through chemo.

I remember my first week of treatment; leaving the hospital my mother and I went across the state with my brother and my sister in law for a 4D Ultrasound of their baby.  This was a mistake, I thought I felt great but by the time we got home I felt worse than I had in a long time. I thought that the two weeks between would make me felt better, but with my compromised immune system I ended back up in the hospital with what we thought was the Swine Flu but ended up just being an infection kicking me to the ground. After feeling better from that I went home and a few days later ended up back there with A-Fib, with which they corrected with a medication called Rhythmol. At this point I didn’t think anything could really go wrong, I was wrong.

Before anything else could go wrong though I went in for my second treatment. While I was there I decided that I wanted to help people, but I wasn’t sure how. I came up with a saying; “Protect Your Pair” which over the last few weeks has really in my mind has been a big part in what has kept me positive.  It was the week after my second treatment that I ended up in the hospital again for another six days because multiple blood clots formed in my arm where they had put my PICC line for my treatments.  During this stay at the hospital is where I really realized I was a survivor, and it was then that I realized that to me being a survivor meant I should really help people. I realized this because of one of my friends; she text messaged me and told me she wanted to help me. Between her and I we have begun to setup a Non-Profit Organization to help raise awareness of the younger generation, my generation, about cancer and how serious it can be. After this I began to build a website, she and I formed a mission statement, and we launched protectyourpair.org.

On December 15, 2009 I went to my oncologist for my “half way” check up during my treatment. I was worried at that point that I would still have the enlarged lymph node, with minimal progress made. I sure was wrong, and could not be happier that I was wrong. My doctor walked in with a giant smile on his face, sat down and said,

“Your Lymph Node is back to its normal size.”

I was so happy, that I really didn’t know what to say. Over the next six days I went through my third treatment, came home from it and had the best Christmas yet. I have never felt more like a survivor in my life, especially since it has inspired me to want to help people. I have one treatment left and after it is over I hope to be rid of it forever.

I know though that I will never really be “rid” of cancer, because I am going to fight it for the rest of my life with each person I help. That is something that would have never done before I had cancer.

Cancer has changed me as a person. Cancer has made me the person that I am today. Cancer has shown me what it means to be a survivor.