I'm celebrating a significant anniversary this year... 25 years as a cancer survivor. In May 1975 at age 23, I was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Although 25 years is a long time, it seems as if it were just yesterday; one of those significant emotional events that kind of become part of who you are. As my personal celebration, I'd like to share my TC experience with you.
Throughout my life, I have often felt that I have had some special power looking over me; keeping me safe. Perhaps that is my Christian upbringing. In the case of my cancer, I feel I was definitely being watched over. Back in May 1975, being young and carefree, I did not spend my time thinking about my health nor did I often respond on those occasions where my body may have been trying to tell me something. Sure, I had noticed this enlargement in my left testicle for a while, but I was certain that it was nothing and would go away. I didn't have a personal physician to ask then, but it wasn't painful; there was just kind of a heavy feeling and it was a bit sensitive to the touch. When the swelling did not go away, I further procrastinated, telling myself that my upcoming physical exam with my employer's doctor would determine that it was nothing, so I would wait until then.
By the time the appointment for my company physical rolled around, several months had gone by since I noticed the swelling. The testicle had swollen to more than twice its normal size. I was concerned, but even so, I planned not to tell the doctor, expecting that if he noticed it, he would tell me if I should do something. As you know, doctors always check out this area, and of course, he did notice the swelling, but was not terribly alarmed. I was relieved by his calm reaction. He did suggest that I have it examined, though, and gave me the name of a urologist to contact...no particular rush, just have it looked at. That was on a Tuesday. I really don't recall why, but my normal procrastinating self would have not bothered calling for an appointment right away, but an inner voice told me call the next day. So I did, and wouldn't you know that the urologist just happened to have a cancellation for that Friday afternoon, two days later. Otherwise, my appointment would have been at least several more weeks later. So I took the Friday appointment. Reflecting on this throughout the years, I truly feel that I was being guided from above.
I was examined by the urologist on Friday and left his office that afternoon in total shock. This couldn't be happening to me. He told me this could be malignant and wanted me to be admitted to the hospital on the following Monday and have surgery on Tuesday to remove my testicle. Obviously, time was critical in dealing with this disease. I was going to visit my parents for the weekend in my hometown and couldn't imagine how I was going to break this news to them. My friend, Patti, was riding along with me that Friday, and she was the first person that I told. I just couldn't hold back the tears, but Patti, who is still a best friend, was great support for me on that drive home. I went to my parents' house, but just couldn't bring myself to tell my mother. This was just not a subject to discuss with your mother. My dad was at work at our family's hardware store, so I went there. I figured I'd do better by telling him first. At the store, Dad was busy, as always, waiting on people, but I did finally get him aside and I broke down. I could barely tell him what was wrong. When I said I was having surgery on Monday, I couldn't even tell him what type; I could only point to where it was.
I was in the hospital on Monday and had my testicle removed on Tuesday through an incision in my groin. On Wednesday, I got the word that it was cancerous (seminoma), and that the urologist felt that the cancer had remained isolated to the testicle. Recovery from the surgery was a snap. I was out of the hospital after four nights with some lingering pain and was only a bit shaky on my feet for a few days. But everything was happening so quickly. Even though this odyssey was just beginning, my head was already spinning. I did not even have time to be frightened.
Preparation quickly began for radiation therapy. I met with my oncologist, who I continue to faithfully see once a year (in recent years, my appointment with him has turned into more of a social visit; he tells me that 1975 was a good year for his patients: he hasn't lost one from that year). My therapy would consist of 25 cobalt radiation treatments focused on the area just below my chest to my groin, followed by another 23 or so treatments on my chest and left shoulder area to treat the lymph nodes. To get started, they pumped blue dye into slits they had cut into the tops of my feet. The dye would travel up my legs and into my upper body, arms and shoulders. X-rays were taken during this procedure and the blue dye would highlight where the oncologist would direct the radiation and show if there was any problem in the lymph nodes. (I've often wondered if this procedure is still in common use today.) My body had a blue tint from my neck down for weeks after. Using the data gathered from X-rays and the dye test, the technician molded two thick lead shields, sort of like stencils, one for my lower abdominal area and one for my chest and shoulder area. The open area of each shield would allow the radiation to pass through and hit me at the appropriate places, protecting my vital organs from exposure. Each treatment lasted only a few minutes. I became a daily fixture at the radiation oncology department that summer.
I returned to work about three weeks after the surgery. As my daily regiment of radiation therapy began, I became accustomed to the routine and began to cope better with the frequent nausea, queasiness, and diarrhea, but I never needed any medication for it. Blood tests were also a part of the routine. I had only recently settled in my city and did not know a lot of people, making for a long and sometimes lonely summer in 1975. Lying in bed at night, I would often think of what was going to happen to me. The doctors told me that my chances of being cured were very good, but still, thoughts of reoccurrence, death, the whole range of emotions, were with me for years. I could have really used a support network of cancer victims and survivors to help me through this period, but I was not aware even if one existed then. My treatments ended in late summer 1975. Follow-up with the oncologist was monthly at first, then eventually went to every six months, then annually. In 1980, after 5 years, I was declared cancer free.
About two years ago, I did have a scare when I noticed an unusual lump on my right testicle. This time, I immediately went to see my family doctor. But after a sonogram and a visit to another urologist, we determined the lump was a cyst that only would need to be monitored. I still have this cyst and monitor it regularly by TSE.
So, here I am today at age 48. The small, black pinhead size tattoos that mark the treatment areas on my chest and back are still there as a reminder. I have never had any reoccurrence of cancer. Through early detection, first-class medical care, and the grace of God, I am cured. I am proud to say that I am a cancer survivor. My health is excellent and I believe I am in the best physical condition of my life right now.
Writing this personal story has been good therapy for me. I'm grateful for many things in my life and being cured of cancer is right at the top of that list. With the passing of years, I never want to feel like I am taking my cure for granted. Recalling the details of my TC experience and preparing this story help me to avoid that.
I have never been reluctant to tell my story to friends and acquaintances, but never had the occasion to share it with others who were going through a similar experience. I want my story to be a source of hope for others who are struggling now with TC and those who are dealing with a friend or relative who is. Anyone needing the support of a long-term survivor is more than welcome to contact me.
Thanks for sharing my silver anniversary as a TC survivor.