Andrew's TC story

I should preface my cancer experience by saying that I've been incredibly lucky. I don't yet consider myself out of the woods, but so far I've "dodged the bullet" pretty well.

About me: I'm 37, married, no kids (but with three cats and a dog!), have always been physically active - running, biking, rollerblading, etc. I'm an artist, and I also work for the University of Virginia ("real job" to pay the bills). I'm not "overly" healthy - I have actually been known to eat junk food and am not rabid about exercise, but I've always been in pretty good shape and a fairly healthy person.

It all started because I couldn't stand my doctor. My PCP (Primary Care Physician) was one of those docs who just can't listen to a thing you say - she'd brush off complaints, not listen to what I had to say, etc. I'm a runner, and every time I'd go to her with any kind of a running injury, she'd say "You know, you really should think about giving up running and try swimming instead". Like that's what a runner wants to hear!

I had had a small amount of pain in "that general area" for a little while - or not really pain so much as just a little discomfort. So I went to her (the aforementioned awful doc) because I was having some discomfort when I did any lifting at work, and asked if it was some type of hernia type condition - what do I know? So she checks out my back and tells me not to lift anything too heavy, and not to pick up things from floor level, but from higher up. ("Hello, Doc - What if the things are on the floor - Do I will them to levitate so I can reach them?")

Fed up, I finally switched doctors. You know the drill - new doc, complete physical. Okay, I hadn't had one in a couple years - Why not? Physical scheduled for about a month away. About a week before, I noticed that one of my testicles felt "odd". Like it was shrunken and hard and rough. Used to be a grape, now it was a raisin. Or not that small, but it just didn't feel like its usual, happy self. Okay, I'll ask the doc when I go next week.

Cancer wasn't even on my mind. I thought if anything the testicle had died for some reason - again, what do I know? My (new) doc - who is great, by the way - very thorough, very good listener - won't tell me that yes, it is cancer, but tells me that's his guess and sends me to a urologist.

Here again, I'm very lucky: Preliminary diagnosis on a Friday, ultrasound Monday, Urologist appointment Tuesday, surgery Friday. Testicle gone, cancer removed! In all of this, for me, the waiting is the hardest. My urologist still didn't know for sure that it was cancer (though he was pretty sure once he saw it) until the surgery. Actually hearing that yes, it is cancer, wasn't nearly as hard as worrying about what it was and what it would all mean.

And, considering that it was cancer, good news it was: It was a seminoma, stage I. No evidence of it having spread anywhere. If you're gonna have cancer, this is about as easy a road as you get. I was even given the option of not having radiation. That would be the next part of the story. I talked a lot to my urologist, and to my radiation oncologist, but once I learned the pros and cons, skipping radiation was never something I seriously considered.

This was how it was explained to me: If I didn't do the radiation, I would have about a one in six chance of some kind of recurrence. Not bad odds, and if it did come back, the further treatments are pretty effective. Good news there. But if I did go ahead and do the radiation, it would be closer to 1 to 3 in 100 chance. Now all that's very much a decision that everyone needs to make on their own, but for me (a worrier), knowing that I had done everything I could possibly do to get past it would bring (and has brought) me a lot of peace of mind.

The radiation was tame by radiation standards: Relatively low doses, five days a week for three weeks. Still, it was no fun. I had nausea and vomiting early on and again towards the end, and diarrhea pretty much throughout. Very tired and lethargic. Felt rotten. But survived.

So here I am now, six months out: I am still having some minor problems, which are probably either not related to the cancer or are only marginally related, but I'm getting better. I'm very much back to most of my normal lifestyle, and plan on getting back even more. Through it all I've been lucky - not just with the disease, but I've had great doctors and support people, great family and friends, and best of all a great wife. She was (and is) sympathetic, helpful and kind.

I do not yet consider myself "cured" (although my oncologist has hinted at that term), but I consider myself a healthy person again. Cancer will always be with me - it will always be something I think about and that I fear, but it is something I have, at least for now, gotten past.


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