What does it mean to be a survivor?
It means there is a bright future ahead of you. It means that you are one of the lucky ones and you have a unique perspective on life. Some may not see it that way, especially those recently diagnosed. I was diagnosed 21 years ago and I can tell you first hand that once you get through treatment and years go by life gets better and better.
What has being a survivor taught me?
Life is YOUR journey through time and controlled not only by nature but your ability to see it for what it is. Each of us can see the obvious or things directly in front of us. A desk is a desk and so on. But by definition the word life means – the sequence of physical and mental experiences that make up the existence of an individual. So in a sense we give the meaning to the word life as it relates to us. Our experiences both good and bad shape us. They give us understanding and strength and help to define the word life. I know in the end we all die. That is nature and far beyond our control. What I have become more aware of is the in-between time. The time in our lives that makes up the existence of an individual. This time is ours and only we can choose how we wish to live it. My time in the hospital was not always fun, but it was my time and I made the most of it. I continue to live my life always looking for the positive side of everything. I have no time to waste thinking about the negative, it only brings me down and that is not what I want. The phrase I use over and over again with my family and friends is “You only get one life, make the most of it because it will end”. I’m not saying throw caution to wind and set off on some reckless adventure but simply saying life is short live it the best you can and do what makes you happy.
Here is my story:
I was diagnosed with stage II testicular cancer in 1988 at the age of 16. The course of action at that time was a left orchiectomy followed by three rounds of chemotherapy. The hope was that the chemo would take care of the enlarged lymph nodes. Stage II means the cancer has spread beyond the testicle. Looking back, had I acted sooner, the cancer might not have spread. I was 16 and sexually active, so when one of my testicles began to swell, I thought I had an STD and kept quiet it. I guess my hesitation was a normal part of growing up and experimenting with sex. I really had no idea what was going on with my body. I waited weeks before telling anyone about my very enlarged testicle.
While I was undergoing treatment, I kept up with my school work and finished 11th grade. All was going well. The chemo seemed to have done its job, and things were pretty much back to normal. I started 12th grade, and not long after, I relapsed. Enlarged lymph nodes were discovered on a routine CT scan. This time, my treatment would be far more aggressive and I had to drop out of high school my senior year. I underwent a retroperitoneal lymph node dissection (RPLND), three rounds of high-dose chemo, and a bone marrow transplant. Not to mention all of the other small surgical procedures. About seven in total, but who’s counting? I would be lying if I said it wasn’t that difficult. Life while going through all of this is separated into good and bad days. Some are good, some bad, but even a bad day can have drops of good in it. You just may have to look for those. That concept is one that not only helped me through my bout with cancer but has stayed with me to this day. You see, there is good in everything, but it is not always easily seen.
I returned to high school the following year to finish up and graduate. One of the single best events in my life happened that year. I met my wife in government class. As I said, there is good in everything. If not for cancer, I would have never met my wife nor had our wonderful daughter. March 2010, we will celebrate our 13th wedding anniversary and we are currently expecting our second child. Both children were conceived naturally so there is hope for all of survivors out there. Cancer is a terrible thing, no denying that. But I look back and say if it were not for cancer I would not have the life I have today.