Cancer will fall upon between 25-33% of us sometime over our lives. It is a disease that I thought was only a concern of the older population. That couldn't be any further from the truth. After 20 years of near-perfect health, I learned what it felt like to come face-to-face with cancer. In the following paragraphs, I hope to provide you with a sample of my life with cancer.
I started noticing the symptoms in September of 1995. It was the day before the Iowa-Iowa State football game. I woke up that Friday morning with pain in my chest and back. I went to the Student Health Center right away to see what was wrong. They said I was in perfect health, but that didn't make the pain go away. As the day progressed, the pain became stronger. By the end of the day, I was sweating because the pain was so intense.
The pain persisted through the weekend, and on Monday I went to McFarland Clinic, Ames primary care facility. An X-Ray showed that my left lung was infected. At that time, the doctors suspected pneumonia. Antibiotics helped alleviate the pain, but something was still not right. When I went to bed, I could feel something moving around in my chest when I turned over. That's when I started to become concerned that this was not normal.
One month passed and I went back to the clinic for a check up exam at the doctor's request. The X-Ray showed much improvement in the lung, however there was a section that had not cleared up. The doctor called for a CT scan. On October 24th the scan was done. A softball-sized mass was found on top of my left lung. It was not yet determined to be cancer. Through the next week I underwent many more tests to find out what it was. Blood samples, CT scans, and ultrasounds were done. After the tests were completed, the doctors requested a biopsy (an operation to get a sample of the tissue in question.)
On November 10th I was admitted to the hospital for surgery. When I woke up that evening, I was officially diagnosed with a Stage III mediastinal germ cell tumor.
My attitude was pretty bitter and I felt mad. "Why me?" I thought. I was released from the hospital on a Thursday night, right before ISU left for Thanksgiving Break. Everyone was hustling and really excited to be going home. I couldn't share in that excitement. I was going to start chemotherapy the Monday of Thanksgiving break.
Monday came and the chemotherapy began. Five hours of intravenous chemotherapy each day for five days. The nausea started in on the second day. No food looked good to me, not even turkey. Spending Thanksgiving Day in the hospital was the worst part of the whole week. I don't know if I'll ever look at Thanksgiving the same way. Friday I was dismissed and went back to my fraternity to rest. The nausea was so terrible that it felt like I had to throw up all the time. This was the end of week number 1. The following two weeks there would only be one drug, Bleomycin, that I would get once. This two week period resting period allowed my body to rebuild my immune system.
At Week 4, I lost my hair. It was quite shocking to lose all your hair in a matter of a day or two. The cycle of one heavy week of chemo followed by two weeks of one drug once per week continued into February. I was very sick on Christmas. New Year's Eve I felt OK, but couldn't celebrate.
I prayed every night that I would get better. The X-Rays showed that the tumor was steadily shrinking, but the chemo was taking it toll on me. By the time I started my third round of chemotherapy, the veins in my arms were bruised from the drugs, and very sensitive to touch. On February 16th, I had my last dose of chemotherapy. It felt great to be done. But was the cancer gone?
A follow-up CT scan was done to find out. It showed a significant amount of the mass left, about the size of a fist. It was recommended to remove it because of the possibility that there were cells that may become cancerous. I went to the University of Iowa Hospital and visited with a cardiothoracic surgeon and oncologist. They felt that it was possible to work around the heart and lung to remove the tumor without too much danger.
On February 29th, I was operated on to remove the remainder of the tumor. It took three days for the pathologists to analyze the tissue. It was found to be all benign! After more than 40 IV's and a hundred trips to the doctor I was finished!
After 22 months of remission, the only side effect that I have left is poor circulation in my fingers and toes, and my surgery scars. These minor inconveniences are easy for me to deal with, and I am living a fairly normal life now, except that I have to come to appreciate the meaning of life much more. In addition, I managed to stay enrolled as a student both semesters of chemotherapy. I made the Dean's list for the fall semester, and received a 4.0 the Spring semester. If that wasn't enough, I was Business Manager for FarmHouse during this time as well. My focus on achieving my goals has proved to me that nothing is impossible if you just put your mind to it.