My name is Chris Ingham. I was born in December 1968, grew up in New England, and have lived here in sunny Tucson, Arizona since starting college in 1986. I work as a software developer, and enjoy music (I'm a saxophonist), travel and camping. My wife Cheryl and I were married in 1993. She's a high school math teacher, soccer player and coach, animal lover (we have two spoiled dogs), flower garden fanatic, and more of a wife and friend than I could ever hope for and probably deserve.
In 1997, at 28 years old, my only health concern had been getting more aerobic exercise to get in better shape and avoid the onset of a pot belly (I'm 6'3½" tall and weighed abut 195lbs.)! To this end I'd just started playing coed indoor soccer with Cheryl. My experience with testicular cancer began just before Valentine's Day of that year...
Thursday, February 13, 1997
I discovered the lump on my right testicle in the shower on this morning, I don't recall where I'd heard of TC or the self-exams, and had never done them, but I had a bad feeling right away. Before panicking, I turned to the Internet. A quick AltaVista search took me to a World Wide Web page with the ominous heading:
"Men: Examining your testicles may save your life".
The symptoms described there matched mine exactly: a hard, painless lump at the front of my right testicle. It felt like a marble-sized pebble had somehow lodged itself in there. I happened to have a follow-up appointment the next day for a sprained ankle I'd gotten in my first soccer game a few weeks earlier (not only was I out of shape, but accident prone). I'd already been playing again on it and had planned to cancel the appointment, but decided I'd better keep it to see what the doctor had to say.
Friday, February 14, 1997
My doctor immediately voiced his concern of cancer. At 4:30 PM on Friday, Valentine's Day, I got an immediate appointment with a local well-known and very busy urologist. I later found out that OR time was being been reserved for the orchiectomy even as I was on my way to see him!
After an exam and ultrasound the urologist told me the preliminary diagnosis was a "testicular mass", the surgery would take place the first thing Monday morning, and to expect to lose the testicle. I was pretty numb at this point, but comforted when he said odds were it was either benign (maybe) or a seminoma cancer (probably), which can almost always be cured with local radiation therapy. "This is one of those areas where modern medical science has made breakthroughs," he assured me. My two questions were "How long could this have been here?" and "If you remove my testicle, what do you put in its place?". He said there was no telling how long the lump had been forming and checked with the hospital for availability of implants. I'm definitely not a 'macho' kind of guy, but was surprised to hear that requests for implants were rare. I'd heard the latest controversy over the 'danger' of breast implants, and personally had no problem with a piece of silicone in me to look and feel normal.
It was now 6:30 PM Valentine's Day, and both the urologist and I are supposed to be home with our wives. Fortunately (or unfortunately) Cheryl is used to me working late and didn't suspect me being anywhere other than running last-minute through Home Depot for a selection of flowering plants. I hadn't told her about discovering the lump or not canceling my doctor's appointment, and now instead of bringing home flats of geraniums and snapdragons, I have to tell her that I might have cancer and have surgery on Monday morning. Only in telling Cheryl did it begin to sink in myself, and my numbness began to turn slowly into fear.
Saturday, February 15, 1997
Today we visited the hospital for another ultrasound (better equipment) and chest X-rays. Thankfully, the X-rays are clear, but everyone agrees the orchiectomy is necessary.
I discovered the TCRC pages this weekend. Boy, have they been helpful. I see that even in the rare case it's more than seminoma, the future looks pretty bright. Thank you Chris and Doug!
Monday, February 17, 1997
Cheryl and I are at the hospital at 5:30 AM, and after signing tons of release forms, I get wheeled to the pre-op staging area at 7:30. I'm amazed at the number of people here for all kinds of operations on what to the rest of the world is just another normal day.
The doctor jokes that I'm getting a collector's item: one of two testicular implants left in the hospital! I'm out before I know it and home by 2 PM, very sore but fairly confident that this will be over soon.
Oddly, as soon as I woke up I noticed a numbness in my left arm that no one has been able to explain. My hand (especially thumb) felt asleep and my arm felt strong enough picking things up but just fell when putting them down. The arm weakness lasted about 5 days, but the prickly 'asleep' feeling lingered in my thumb for a few weeks.
Wednesday, February 19, 1997
This was a really bad day. The pathology report was not what I was prepared for: 100% embryonal carcinoma with vascular invasion (this means the tumor had spread into the normal bloodstream). The upshot of this is that even after the orchiectomy, the chances of spreading or relapse are pretty high. To top it off, my blood tests for elevated alpha feto protein and HCG levels came back negative. I'm told surveillance is not an option and I've just bought myself at least an RPLND. Breaking the news over the phone to my parents was terrible and waiting until Cheryl got home from work was worse.
Thursday, February 20, 1997
I'm hardly ever sick enough to miss work for more than a day, and by now everyone was wondering what was going on. I now knew enough to tell them. Rather than having rumors float around and people treating me strangely (especially after everything's over), I decided to disclose everything to everyone. Cheryl came with me to help me get through the details and questions. Everyone was incredibly supportive -- for me it was definitely the right thing to do.
I'd been talking to my parents since Monday, and told them yesterday they could tell the extended family. This was partially a mistake:
Cheryl and I lead a fairly quiet home life; we have a few close friends and aren't used to many calls or messages on the machine. We decided after visiting work to catch a movie to take a little break from things. We came home, refreshed, to fourteen messages from well-meaning relatives, tearfully giving their condolences and prayers. This was at first very painful to hear, but soon helped snap me out of feeling sorry for myself. The voices on the answering machine were speaking to someone who was going to die. I'm not going to die. This, however terrible and unfair it might seem, is not going to last forever.
As cold as this might sound, my advice to anyone in a similar situation is to choose a few people to keep up-to-date: one for family, one for work, one from each circle of friends, and ask them to be points of contact for everyone else. The amount of support and response Cheryl and I have received has been overwhelming in every sense of the word. It's a surprise and a good feeling to realize how many lives we've touched, but it's also important to have life feel as 'normal' as possible in abnormal times.
Friday, February 21, 1997
Finally some good news. The CT scan I had this morning came back negative (and fast thanks to a rush from our doctor to avoid a weekend wait). Unfortunately the RPLND is still deemed necessary because of the cancer type, the vascular invasion, and the lack of blood markers to watch. I asked about chemotherapy and was told that with no direct evidence of metastasis it wasn't the preferred option. The surgery is scheduled for March 1st.
February 22 - February 28, 1997
I thought at first that the eight day wait for the surgery would be an unbearable eternity, but there was plenty to do: prepare a living will, get bills paid and things in order to prepare for my recovery, visit with close friends... and lots of research.
My favorite band these days is the Dave Matthews Band. The last stop of Dave Matthew's and Tim Reynold's acoustic concert tour happened to be at the University of Arizona right here in town. The music was great and wonderfully distracting.
A friend at work had been talking to me over the past couple months about something called Jin Shin Jyutsu, a therapy remotely like acupressure, that deals with applying light pressure to various "Safety Energy Locks" throughout your body to resume energy flow and relieve all kinds of symptoms; physical and emotional. She'd been using it as part of her training (and recuperation) regimen for mountain bike racing, and another electrical engineer friend had recently started it and also spoke highly of its effects. Although I'm fairly open minded, I'm also practical and science-grounded, and was somewhat skeptical. But I was surprised at how rickety I felt after being couch-bound for only a few days after the orchiectomy, and given these testimonials I figured it couldn't hurt. I was fairly impressed. With two sessions in two days the aches quickly went away and combined with lots of vitamin C I was able to head off a cold that everyone including ultra-healthy Cheryl had and which I wanted to avoid going into surgery. I considered it a worthwhile experience and decided to try it again for the same effects after the RPLND.
I'm a little disappointed with the testicular implant I received with the orchiectomy. It looks normal but is much harder than my other, normal testicle and doesn't feel very natural. It kind of reminds me of the original tumor. I blame the hype over breast implants for the crappy selection and quality of testicular implants.
I can't say enough how helpful the TCRC web pages have been -- especially the personal stories. It seemed I was sharing Chris Brewer's experience fairly closely (though I was hoping not too closely as far as the chemotherapy was concerned). Mike's wife's story was also helpful, although it gave me some sleepless nights wondering whether to stay in Tucson or get tickets on the next plane to Indiana... Cheryl and I had been planning for a first child in another year or two. My sperm count (pre-orchiectomy) was terrible:
1.6 million (60-100 million is normal). Loosing ejaculatory function was something I didn't need.
One refreshing experience I've had compared with those I've read from many others has been the frankness and openness of my doctors. I've known at every step of the way their perception of the options available and their associated risks, and have gained a high degree of trust in them. My urologist/surgeon estimated an 85-90% success of the nerve-sparing aspect of the RPLND, and although this isn't as high as IU promises, I felt reasonably comfortable with that.
My parents arrived from New Hampshire the day before the surgery. It wasn't the usual festive welcome for such a visit, and I wasn't looking my best after my afternoon experience with Go-Lytely. When they first offered to come out, I resisted, thinking that there wasn't anything they would be able to do. Not that that would have stopped them anyway. I was real glad to see them and they would be a huge support for Cheryl, who was simultaneously dealing with her father's diagnosis and surgery for prostate cancer.
Before talking about the RPLND I want to thank one other TCRC personal experience donor (I don't recall your name): My surgeon used removable sutures for the orchiectomy and I asked if that would be possible rather than staples for the RPLND. He said that as long as I was stable he'd be happy to take the additional time to do the sutures. Barely two weeks after the surgery the incision looks like a semi-deep fingernail mark!
Saturday, March 1, 1997
The RPLND. I can't tell you much about this day—I was pretty much out of it. I remember breathing shallowly to avoid excruciating muscle spasms in my abdomen and having nurses occasionally tell me to try to breathe more deeply to avoid pneumonia. They decided to give me some narcotics in the epidural to calm me down. The operation itself seemed to have gone well.
Sunday, March 2, 1997
Every time I tried to sleep last night, I'd double up in pain as my breathing deepened. After some discussion, they decided to give me Valium by IV. This helped A LOT. I got up to walk twice today and was feeling better by the hour. Cheryl and I called some friends to tell them the good news while waiting to watch The X Files. I told them I was feeling good and looking forward to their visits the next day. The pain was returning, and I briefly considered requesting more Valium, since it had worked so well and my last dose was before noon, but I fell asleep first, before the show began...
Midway through an episode on a devil-worshipping cult in New Hampshire (we tape the show, so I saw it when I got home), Cheryl heard me take a funny breath, then none at all. After trying briefly and unsuccessfully to wake me, she watched me start to seize and ran to the nurses' station.
I thankfully remember nothing except waking up from (to?) what I thought was a bad dream. Bright lamps and lots of nurses/doctors in my face asking me if I'm awake and if I know where I am. I am panting and feeling a cycle of intense but non-localized pain, followed by total numbness and then a prickly feeling building towards pain again. I can't feel my body until someone squeezes my hand and foot, asking me if I'm feeling them. I am sure I'm dying until I find myself asking for Cheryl, and then hearing her crying and feeling her squeeze my hand.
The pain I was feeling was the effect of anti-narcotic drugs shot into my vein, followed by being shaken back and forth to speed those drugs through my system. The seizures I had made them suspect a blood clot, which was ruled out from portable X-rays and a trip to nuclear medicine for a radioactive lung scan.
I guess my advice from this is that if you're ever put on heavy narcotics, either demand that your breathing be monitored, or have loved ones nearby to keep an eye on you around the clock. Even though it had been 8½ hours since my last Valium dose, I'm told and am (thankfully) living proof that the effects of these drugs are both lingering and cumulative, and were enough to cause my respiratory arrest. Although it was the scariest thing ever to happen to me, this episode barely affected my recovery time. I have Cheryl and some alert nurses to thank for saving my life.
Monday, March 3 - Sunday, March 23, 1997
Today was the first day I could contribute to my personal hygiene, and boy did it feel good to have shaved and shampooed. Walking every few hours helped pass the day and avoid the uncomfortable leg stockings. The strong sense of smell Chris Brewer described with his chemotherapy was something I was experiencing with the medications I was receiving through the IV. It was especially weird to me, being a long time allergy sufferer with little sense of smell! No exaggeration: on a walk to the nurses' station and back, I felt nauseous from the smell of cheese that hit me as soon as I entered the hall from my room. The culprit was an open bag of Doritos in a room halfway down the hall!
Living in Tucson has its benefits; Tuesday and Wednesday I was able to drag my IV to a patio outside and enjoy the 75° F degree weather typical of our early spring. It's not often you leave a 5 day hospital stay with a slight tan!
Tuesday night the news came back from pathology. Out of 59 (wow) nodes, one tested positive: again, embryonal cell, but less than 1mm and in the node closest to the original tumor. I was told I was as little Stage IIA as I could be, but none of us took this news well. All we heard was that there was more and that this wasn't over.
Wednesday an oncologist stopped in to discuss the options that many of you are well familiar with. Here's my two cents in the chemotherapy vs. surveillance choice after RPLND: Whatever the odds, surveillance is a gamble. The jackpot is that you gradually gain more and more confidence over the next 5 or so years that you've been cured without exposing yourself to the risks of 2 cycles of chemotherapy. The stakes are your life and your piece of mind. More important, If you have a wife and/or children the stakes include their piece of mind and their lives as they have known them before your diagnosis: with you; the same lives they deserve to resume when this is behind you. Emotionally distancing yourself from a loved one is a typical subconscious response to not feeling confident they'll always be around. For me, the choice was clear when I imagined a scenario where 2 years from now I'm getting chest X-rays every 2 months at best and the reader misses something, allowing 4+ months of uninhibited growth. Cheryl and I decided it was better to ride this roller coaster to the end now to reduce the chances of ever having to get back on.
On a lighter note, Wednesday was also the day I was released from the hospital. With every tube and IV that came out I felt immensely better and grew more and more restless to go home!
My recovery at home was fairly speedy. Although the incision was over three times longer than the orchiectomy, getting up and down was less painful due to the four days of hospital bed rest. Within a week, I was able to laugh, cough and even sneeze without too much pain, and the week after that I was back at work part time and even playing my saxophone! Again, I have to attribute some of this to the Jin Shin sessions I received. The first one in particular (the day after coming home) is what my practitioner refers to has one of her "holy shit" sessions: I went from feeling pretty crappy to walking almost normally, feeling giddy, and eating a full, normal meal an hour later (no more super smell!). I am thoroughly convinced that science (and insurance companies) will someday fully explain and embrace this and some other 'alternative' treatments.
With chemotherapy in the near future, we were referred to a fertility clinic for sperm banking. Unfortunately, we were too late: I wasn't ejaculating. Although I knew this was a possibility, it was still very hard to take. And worse, my post-orgasm urine samples showed evidence of semen but no sperm whatsoever. Either somehow the sperm isn't getting introduced into the semen, or perhaps it was the testicle with the tumor that was producing even the low amount of sperm detected in my pre-orchiectomy test. I'm getting tired of bad news and being in the low percentile cases.
More soapboxing: As you probably know, if you've got testicular cancer there's a good chance your sperm count is low. If you're wanting kids, meet with a fertility specialist ASAP! Doing this before the RPLND is a good idea: even if the nerves are spared, it could be months before regaining ejaculatory function, and if chemotherapy is needed this is time you may not have. They can do amazing things with very little sperm (every sperm is sacred?!). Sperm banking is cheap insurance, even if your health insurance doesn't cover it. The cost in my case was a $250 processing fee and $200 a year for freezing (although unfortunately in my case after the RPLND there was nothing to freeze). It's the fertilization down the road that's the expensive part, but at least it's an option if nothing else works out!
Big grain of salt: Don't let fertility issues get in the way of the treatment of the cancer (especially the orchiectomy!). You're #1 goal should be to live long enough to raise any children you might have (or adopt)!
With all this in mind, we started looking at our fertility options. These seemed to be:
1. A testicular biopsy: Extract a portion of the testicle itself. This is fairly painful and doesn't yield the best quality sperm (especially for banking), as they haven't yet made their two month journey through the epididymis.
2. An epididymal aspiration: Extract the mature sperm directly from the vas deferens. The resultant scarring will almost certainly prohibit sperm flow should the ability to ejaculate return. This means that any future attempts at sperm retrieval will require additional aspirations.
3. electro-ejaculation: Electrodes are applied via the rectum to stimulate ejaculation under general anesthesia. For me this would require a trip to the Baylor College of Medicine (in Houston, with Dr. Larry Lipshultz et. al.., who seem to be pioneering this technique in humans, mostly with para/quadriplegics—and yes, this is done to bulls, too) Cost for the procedure itself is $500 but the necessity of GA and therefore a hospital OR brings the cost to $3000 a "pop" (sorry).
This dilemma was for us was as difficult as that of chemotherapy vs. surveillance:
Delay chemotherapy for a costly out-of-pocket procedure to retrieve a small amount of sperm that may not even exist, or take our chances that any anti-sperm-producing effects of the chemotherapy will be temporary, the ability to ejaculate may return, and even if not these same options or others may still be available in a couple years. We chose the latter (to take our chances and wait and see). I've known family and friends who have spent many thousands of dollars with no results. Adoption and sperm donor programs are other options. Although I know in my heart of hearts I would love to have a child that I knew was partly me, I also know I'll love any child we raise.
After delaying a week to discover these options and fruitlessly attempting to achieve ejaculation with prescriptions of imipramine and ephedrine (basically Sudafed, believe it or not), I resigned myself to starting the adjuvant chemotherapy treatment.
Monday, March 24, 1997 - Present (April 12, 1997)
Cisplatin. Etoposide. Bleomycin. I'm trying very hard to focus on the good these drugs will do and not the side effects they might cause, but I'm damn scared. I'm writing this just before my 2nd of 2 courses, and I can't imagine going through months or years of this. I'm so thankful this is 1997. I've read the stories of those who dealt with TC 20+ years ago, and all I can say is I'm sorry. I spoke with a man from Florida who was diagnosed in 1974 and endured 5 YEARS of "cobalt treatment". Today he's 50 and still undergoing surgeries to counteract the effects of the treatment, not the cancer. I promise to remember this 20 years from now when a TC diagnosis will probably require the inconvenience of a single afternoon's doctor and pharmacy visits.
I won't get into specifics of the treatment: it's the standard TC protocol most of us are familiar with, and that Chris has described so well. So far I'm receiving all medication as an outpatient. For nausea they're giving me Kytril every 12 hours during the "hell week" (it works well), and a prescription of Compazine otherwise. I'd rather feel nauseous than drugged, so I haven't taken much of the Compazine.
The 3rd through 5th days of that first week were terrible. I had no energy whatsoever. My chest and breathing were constricted to the point that speaking was an effort, and I felt like an extremely old man trying to move about. I generally slept very little.
Thursday night was the absolute worst: I felt I had to work for every breath, and had convinced myself that if I fell asleep I was not going to live through the night (I was still very shaken from my experience in the hospital). I distinctly remember hearing each and every 15 minute chime of our family room clock through 5:30AM, when I finally and thankfully fell asleep, mentally and physically exhausted. It was the longest and most frightening night of my life.
In general, it was just impossible to be comfortable. When lying down I felt I had to get up and once up I needed to lie back down. And I had to pee every couple hours through the night -- although sometimes the need for this was to pass the time as much as the need to actually urinate. Though I knew how important it is, it was hard to drink liquids and eating for the most part was out of the question. My weight was now below 170 lb. The hardest part on Cheryl was that for the most part I just wanted to be left alone.
Thankfully I was more myself over the weekend. Over the next few days I would dry heave in the mornings and usually be OK for the rest of the day. Again, this to me was a better alternative for me than feeling drugged up. My appetite was returning quickly despite the nausea and the only lingering symptoms were a strong sense of smell and a burnt feeling in my stomach, chest and throat.
The bleomycin on day 9 brought back the tightness in the chest and made me feverish, but this only lasted 24 hours.
My hair lasted until day 15. Not thrilled with being able to pull it out so easily, I went to SuperCuts for the Big Shave. They reduced it to stubble which so far hasn't rubbed off in the shower, so for now I look like I'm going for that Miles Simon look of our NCAA men's basketball national championship Arizona Wildcats...
Again, the bleomycin on day 16 caused a feeling of heartburn and some fever and chills. This time they gave me hydration with the bleo and pre-loaded me with Tylenol and Benadryl. Also they started giving me preservative-free saline, which avoids the nasty smell/taste I got from the regular stuff. The only other side effects have been some intermittent ringing in the ears that I'm hoping will remain intermittent and temporary, and wanting to sleep quite a bit (I'll take that side effect!).
Just three more weeks and we can start to put this behind us to some extent. I'm a lucky man in so many respects. For many people it seems cancer is a major wake-up call; a signal that their life requires some major changes. For me this has been a life affirming experience. My priorities and goals haven't changed. The friends I felt comfortable with before the diagnosis are thankfully the same ones I feel comfortable with now, and new ones have appeared. My employer and coworkers have been terrific and thanks to good insurance this experience will not be a lasting financial burden on us. People like my doctors and Chris Brewer have given me wonderful resources for information and support. More than anything, I'm deeply moved by the love and support I've received from my family, friends, coworkers and even nurses and hospital staff, who I would have thought would be emotionally dulled by the day-to-day tragedy to which they are exposed. I'll be volunteering through the local hospitals to talk with other TC patients, and will always be happy to answer any additional questions about my experience.
March 21, 1998
Well, here I am one year later, doing well and representing another success story of modern medical practice and research! I'm one of an ever-growing number of people who would not be here without these advances, and often wonder about the size of the community to which I now belong. It has been exciting to see the TCRC website and TC-NET mailing list mature under Chris and Doug's capable hands. A number of people have emailed me over the months thanking me for my story and asking how things have turned out. I decided to combine some of my responses into an update to my story:
The second cycle of BEP treatment went smoother than the first. The first week was awful, but a very constant, routine kind of awful, and Friday kept getting closer and closer. I barely said two words to anyone all week. The hardest part for me was actually Saturday through the next Tuesday; after the first "hell week", I was feeling MUCH better even on Saturday, and was really disappointed when this time I didn't immediately bounce back. I wasn't really feeling human again until it was time for my next bleomycin shot.
If you're reading this with BEP looming in your short-term future, I hope you didn't panic at reading my account of the experience. Don't get me wrong; I promise that it was every bit as terrible as I have described, but that was me, and everyone reacts differently. I think a big factor in my troubles of that first week was psychological fear that didn't allow me to sleep or rest properly, exacerbating the side effects of the treatment. Another mistake was refusing the Ativan (I was still freaked out about my experience with the Valium and wasn't excited about any drugs that weren't absolutely necessary). After my endless Thursday night that first week I accepted the Ativan on Friday and with subsequent treatments, and found it easier to relax. The Kytril continued to keep the vomiting under wraps, and the fevers and heartache caused by the bleomycin were treated with Benadryl and Mylanta.
I had my last bleomycin shot on April 29, 1997, and although I was more than happy to be done, this wasn't a big day of celebration for me (I just now had to double check the date on my calendar to make sure it was correct). I wasn't prepared at this point to jump up and down and declare I'd beaten cancer. Cancer was a quiet and formidable opponent, and my only tangible experience of it was a painless bump. This bump cause me to endure two surgeries, a respiratory arrest and six weeks of poison, and this for one of the 'easiest' cancers to have! If anyone had been beaten, it sure felt like it had been me. I was just tired and relieved that the treatments were over.
Here's a timeline of the milestones of my post-chemotherapy physical and emotional recovery:
Mid May 1997 (2-3 weeks)
Back to work full time. I worked on and off in the bleomycin weeks of treatment and gradually approached 40 hours over the last three weeks. This was my totally my choice; as I said before, my employer support was fantastic. It was important to me at the time to get back to "normal" ASAP. Mind you, I'm a software developer and not a construction worker!
Memorial Day Weekend 1997 (1 month)
We extended the weekend to 5 days and drove down to Mexico, where we shared a rented beach cottage in Mexico with some good friends. I was well enough for long walks, some running/playing in and out of the surf, and some light swimming. Though still bald, my hair was definitely showing signs of coming back, and this weekend was the first time I really needed to shave.
Mid June 1997 (6 weeks)
Started playing indoor soccer again. I was very out of shape and just took it slow.
July - October 1997
Physically, I was doing great. The external effects of my illness, or I should say my treatments, were rapidly disappearing. My hair came back the same color, but baby soft and wavy. Interestingly, I would occasionally re-lose patches of hair that had long since come in. It didn't dramatically fall out, like it did during the chemotherapy, but I developed patches in my facial hair and at my temples. This phenomenon would continue for months, and apparently is normal. Another odd but normal phenomenon that appeared during this time was a tenderness in and around the nipple of my left breast. This also lasted for a few months and was most likely due to hormonal changes in my body's adjustment to having only one testosterone factory.
Ironically, after fighting for things to get back to "normal", I entered a period of depression and dissatisfaction with everyday life. I was beginning to look and be treated normally again, but definitely hadn't emotionally recovered. The euphoria of feeling well enough to return to my previous daily routine had worn off. I felt really behind and overwhelmed at work, but unable to concentrate and motivate myself, which in turn made me feel guilty and more behind. This downward spiral was tough on both of us.
I felt childishly ungrateful for not being happy. I'd just beaten cancer, and who was I not to be satisfied to return to a life that by any measure is wonderful? Yet every day I was fighting a strong desire to quit my job, sell our house and run away to some mountain Colorado town, where we could slow down and really appreciate the life that had been given back to us. If not for the reality that we're not independently wealthy and would have no health insurance, I may well have done this. Cheryl was, of course, continuously supportive, but unable to help, and thankfully, for the first time in my life, I got some professional counseling. Four or five sessions really helped me sort my feelings out and validate them as being reasonable for someone in this situation. Also, a "crisis" at work, which at first I feared would be the last straw, actually helped me to focus and realize that I enjoy the work I do.
November 1997 - March 1998 (6 months +)
The holiday season this year was particularly enjoyable and went quickly. Cheryl and I return to New Hampshire each Christmas to spend time with my family, and I think my relatives were surprised to see that I looked pretty much the same as I did one year earlier. It was a little strange but fun to hear the "My, how good you look!" refrain, as the novelty of my full recovery had long since worn off for my Arizona friends, and I had been used to feeling myself for some time.
Cheryl and I have few physical reminders of our experience with cancer: some surgical scars that are getting less noticeable all the time; The fact that I don't ejaculate, which doesn't affect the sexual experience in any way; and finally that there are still no positive signs that I'll be able to father children (a post-ejaculation urine specimen in January showed no sperm). These reminders are inconsequential in view of the big picture, which is that of the two of us growing old together with ZERO change in quality of life. I am grateful and very happy to be able to tell you this.
I don't worry about my occasional follow-ups and tests because I know I did everything possible up front to boost my chances for a total cure. I feel cured; that like bronchitis or chicken pox, cancer is something that I once had. I don't use the term remission because frankly it seems melodramatic to me. I didn't have a tumor to watch shrink during chemotherapy; for all I know I was cured by the RPLND and just really blasted anything that could have remained with the chemo. My diet and lifestyle weren't bad before the diagnosis, but now I'm pay extra attention to what I eat, take vitamin and mineral dietary supplements, and have started aerobics in addition to indoor soccer. I'm determined that if anything like this is to happen again, it will be through no fault of mine. Who knows, maybe I'll live longer and healthier now having had cancer than I would have otherwise!
Until I started hitting the anniversaries of discovery/diagnosis, surgeries, and now chemotherapy, the events of last February - April had begun seem like another lifetime. The feelings are vivid, and I can still recall the details of almost every day, but I can put these memories away now for days or even weeks at a time. Sometimes I worry whether this is missing the point; whether I should have escaped to the Colorado mountains to celebrate every additional moment I've been given. For now, Cheryl and I are settling for a middle ground; this summer we're taking 3 weeks to tour Egypt and the Greek Isles. This is something we might otherwise have put off indefinitely, but an alternative to going overboard and abandoning our current lifestyle. We definitely have a deeper appreciation of the life we have and of the value of time.
Well, that's pretty much everything. I hope not to have to update this story again. Statistics and the follow-ups I've had so far predict that I shouldn't have to. If you're just starting down this road, I wish you the best of luck, and congratulations on discovering the TCRC. It is the perfect starting point for any questions you may have. If you're in need of someone to talk to, please email me at
Good luck to you and congratulations on discovering the TCRC! And by the way, the TC-NET listserver is another great source of information and support.