Bob K's TC story

I'm a 46 year old native of New Jersey, married, with no children. I'm physically active working out 2 hours a day, 3 days a week. Although I'm not real health conscious, I do watch my weight and I'm careful of what I eat and drink. But the most important thing about me is that I'm a 3 time cancer survivor. Here's my story.

In July, 1988, I was working in a room which I was remodeling. It was just a simple cleanup before I headed off to church. While bending over to pick up some molding scraps I got a sharp pain in my lower abdomen. Brushing it off as stomach cramps I continued to cleanup. The pain didn't subside, it got worse. It got so bad I could barely walk. I laid down on the couch and tried to get comfortable. No luck. As the pain became worse I reached down to feel my testicles. After almost flying through the ceiling in pain, I told my wife to call the doctor. He said to get me to Emergency because it sounded like my testicle twisted on the cord and was stopping blood circulation. After the most painful car ride in my life, I was examined by the Emergency doctor. When she grabbed my testicle I almost passed out from the pain. She called in a urologist who thought it might be an infection and would treat it as such "for now." I went home with pain killers, an anti-inflammatory, and spent the next day with my cubes on ice.

In three weeks, feeling much better, I went back for my follow up. Although I felt fine he didn't like the way my left testicle felt. "It's too hard." One week later I was in the operating room for an exploratory with the understanding I might lose the testicle. I did. It was seminoma. While recovering I had a CT-scan which showed enlarged lymph nodes in the lower abdominal/pelvic region. I was referred to a radiologist. Two weeks later I was receiving my daily dose of radiation.

Before I started my treatment I saw an oncologist who was recommended by a good friend. He said that the radiation was proper but that I should have a chemo backup. His thought being that the chemo is universal which would get any unwanted travelers. Hearing horror stories about chemo I decided that I would listen to my urologist who had said the radiation would be enough.

Radiation treatment had a strange twist for me. I was shot on the inverted-Y which is a 6-inch strip that starts on the upper abdomen and goes down to the groin. When it reaches the lower abdomen it Ys off for about six inches on each side following the lymph trail. I received 90 rads for 15 seconds and was turned over for another 90 rads for 15 seconds. This lasted 20 straight days (weekends off) for a total of 3600 rads. I became nauseated approximately 2 hours after my first treatment. I was given a medication by my oncologist which worked great to stop it. One hour after each treatment I got very tired and had to lay down for about 2 hours. Sometime around round 15 I started to get diarrhea. It stopped right after the radiation treatments stopped. I also lost hair in the exact spot I was radiated. A perfect, hairless inverted-Y.

The strange twist to my radiation story is that every time I walked into my bathroom I got sick. There was something in there that my sense of smell was picking up. It was horrible. Sometime half way through the treatments I was in a shopping mall with my wife. All of a sudden it hit me. That smell! We were standing in front of craft store when I asked my wife what it was. Eucalyptus. That was it. My wife had made a wreath of eucalyptus and hung it in the bathroom. So why was it making me nauseated? They use eucalyptus to clean radiation rooms. My mind was playing tricks on me. I was associating the smell of radiation treatment with nausea.

Over the next year I had my quarterly "surveillance" check-ups with the assurance that testicular seminoma was 95% curable and I had nothing to fear. In late September of 1989 I started to have this funny feeling in my throat as if my collar was too tight. No matter what shirt I had on I was always tugging on it to relieve the discomfort. A month later I went to the doctor and he x-rayed my chest. There it was - a Northern explorer. A mass the size of a plum sitting nicely on top of my aorta. He referred me to a surgeon for a biopsy. Because of the position of the mass the needle biopsy was too risky. The tumor was too close to the subclavian and carotid arteries. The surgeon suggested open chest surgery. Saw through the sternum, open the chest, and hack that thing out. Sounded good to me. If it doesn't belong there, get it out. My wife panicked. Shouldn't we see the oncologist first? The surgeon said, "No. Take it out and biopsy it. If it's malignant, then go see the oncologist." Not feeling comfortable with this method she talked me into seeing the oncologist before the surgery.

The oncologist told us that you never do surgery first, especially to someone who had prior seminoma. He recommended having a general surgeon do a biopsy. Guess who? Yep, Dr. Sawenhack. We asked to be referred to Sloan-Kettering.

Sloan-Kettering is a hospital that deals strictly with cancer, every floor is dedicated to something different. I was on floor 15, the chest floor. My surgeon was a thoracic cancer surgeon. In other words, that's all she does. When I went for my pre-op exam, she concurred that a needle biopsy was out of the question. Too risky. But instead of the Sawenhack method, she cut me from my armpit to my sternum just beneath my left breast. She then spread my ribs, moved my lung to the side, and cut away as much of the tumor as she could.

Seminoma.

My surgeon referred me to a thoracic oncologist. Yep, he only deals with cancer in the chest. After the most thorough examination I ever had in my life my case was brought before the tumor board. There a team of oncologists got together and recommend the best possible treatment protocol for my particular case. One month later, after full surgical recovery I started my chemotherapy treatments.

My chemotherapy protocol was IV treatment 5 days in a row, 2-3 weeks off, for 4 rounds. My chemo was a combination of cisplatin, etoposide, anti-nausea meds and steroids. It's hard to explain how this makes you feel. The only word that keeps coming to mind is - shit! After the first round of 5 treatments for which I was hospitalized, it took me 3 days to recover before I started to feel somewhat normal. Seventeen days after the first treatment my hair started to fall out. My white blood counts were slow coming up. It looked like three full weeks between rounds would be the protocol. One week after my first treatment I got a severe toothache. It seemed I caught a food infection when my counts were low. Back to Sloan for IV antibiotics.

I was in Sloan for 16 days when my counts were high enough to pull two teeth and get me back on chemo so I wouldn't miss my protocol. The second round proved a little tougher with a recovery time of 5 days before I started to feel better. Between fighting the infection and chemotherapy my 2nd visit to Sloan was 21 days. Three weeks later I was back in for round three. This time the liquids were tougher going down, the food was harder staying down, and the smell of urine was making me nauseous. Eight days to recover from round three.

Driving into New York for treatment had its own problems. Anxiety set in and I began to experience the smells and feelings as I got closer to the hospital. However reluctant, I knew it was something that I had to do to survive. So I did it and willingly accepted the IV. This was it. Round 4, the end. No appetite, can't drink, bowels losing control. It's day 5, the last treatment. Last call for protocol. No sooner was the needle out of my arm I was dressed and ready to go home. The nurse suggested I stay some extra days to flush the chemo out with saline. "Don't worry, I'll drink plenty of liquids!" I wanted out of there, never to return again. Bad mistake!

I spent the next 9 days trying to recover from the last five treatments. It wasn't working. I couldn't eat or drink a thing. It got to the point were I couldn't walk up stairs because I was so weak. We called Sloan and they said to get in immediately. As soon as they gave me an IV of saline I started to feel better. It was like diving into a pool of cool water on a hot, humid day. I could actually feel the fluids running through my body. Nine days later I was home. I got on my motorcycle and rode 120 miles celebrating my end to chemo. After the ride I slept for 2 days.

Well, that was almost 7 years ago. As far as testicular cancer is concerned I'm cured, but careful. With a forever reminding wife I keep on top of TC with regular self exams and yearly visits to the oncologist. I'm very optimistic and feel I've received all the right treatment. I owe my success to an extremely loving, caring, intuitive, and supportive wife who always made me feel everything was just fine. I feel great and live a perfectly normal lifestyle. I'm just a little lighter in the jockey shorts.

One week after my 5th TC anniversary I was diagnosed with malignant melanoma. Surgery took care of that. So now I'm on another type of surveillance treatment and seeing another type of oncologist. I'm very optimistic about this, too. This has slightly change my lifestyle in that I have to be more conscious about the sun, and to carefully and systematically check my body moles. But other than that I'm feeling great. Anyone who wishes to contact me for information or support can do so. Just e-mail me at ghca@earthlink.net.


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