Last Updated September 3, 2006
I decided not to go to a doctor right away because in a few days I would be heading to Hilton Head, South Carolina with the rest of my tennis team for a week. I had worked hard in the offseason and had risen from 9th to 6th on my team and broke into the starting lineup. I did not want to jeopardize all my hard work. I went on the trip, but was still thinking about that lump.
When I returned to school I went to the health center where I saw a doctor who recommended I see a urologist ASAP. That weekend I was heading home for Easter so I called my mother and told her about the situation, she told me not to worry, “it’s probably just a cyst.” She made an appointment for me on Good Friday, and I headed home two days later.
I went to the urologist office and after his examination the doctor ordered a sonogram, and I became very worried. I went to a hospital and had the sonogram and returned to the urologist’s office. I was diagnosed with TC. I wasn’t surprised, based on my intuition, but how could this happen? I was an athlete, I ate well, exercised, had no history of cancer in my family, and I felt perfectly fine. Obviously it was not a Good Friday.
The Tuesday after Easter I had an orchiectomy. I stayed in the hospital and thought about what this all meant. My blood tests and other scans looked OK, but I would have to wait for a pathology report. I tried to keep the diagnosis secret from people at school except for a few close friends. The pathology report showed my cancer was an embryonal carcinoma, a non-seminoma type of TC. My urologist went over the next steps… surveillance, RPLND, etc. I was sort of shocked. I was hoping to have the surgery (orchiectomy) and be done with TC; I didn’t realize what I was in for. I had to get back to school and left my parents in charge of talking with the doctor and helping me decide next steps.
I returned to school and attempted to get along, but obviously everything felt different. There was no more tennis, no more working out, but it was good to see friends again and pretend things were normal. My parents had a consultation with my urologist who told them he wanted me to go to New York City to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. I had an appointment made for two days after the school semester ended in early May. I finished the school year and made my way back home wondering what would become of my summer.
My parents and I went to New York and had some more tests done and spoke to the doctors. A few days later I heard from the doctor in New York. The CT scan showed the cancer had spread to my retroperitoneal lymph nodes. Everything changed. I was told that I had to start chemotherapy immediately, bank sperm, do this do that… my world was spinning out of control. While friends spent their summers working, having fun, playing sports, whatever… I was going to spend my summer in an oncology ward.
I found a sperm bank and spent three mornings “giving specimens.” I then started chemotherapy. I was able to have my chemo administered in my hometown and another office. I would have four courses of cisplatin and etoposide. A ‘course’ would consist of receiving chemo Monday thru Friday from 8AM to 4 or 5PM. I had my head shaved to hasten the loss of my hair. Chemo as anyone who has had cancer will tell you, is everything you’ve heard and worse. My body, once muscular and fit, became pale and beat down by the barrage of drugs.
As the summer wore on things would only get worse. I had days where it would hurt to open my eyes and spent entire weekends in bed. At times I needed help getting out of the shower. I needed injections to help my both my white and red blood cell counts. What made my situation more unique, was my age. I know TC hits young men, but when I was in the chemo ward, there was never anyone within 25 years of me. People would look and stare at me, and I knew what they were thinking “what happened to him, what did he do?” I didn’t do anything, I didn’t deserve what was happening to me, but I tried to stay focused on the fact that I had a light at the end of my tunnel. The doctors gave me a good shot at a full life and many of the people I received chemo with did not have that opportunity.
Once the chemo ended it was time for school to begin. I had to enroll at a local college where my father worked (I took a study leave from my undergrad school) in order to keep my health insurance. So coming off chemo, bald, tired, I returned to school. I took another trip to New York to have more tests and meet with doctors. The CT scan showed the lymph nodes had shrunk, but they were still abnormally large. I had a choice, have an RPLND or surveillance. The choice caused a lot of problems in my family. My mother wanted surgery, my father adamantly against it. The choice was mine and I chose the RPLND. I wanted to know what was going on with my body once and for all. I was terrified of the surgery, but equally terrified of choosing surveillance and having the cancer return in which case my chances of survival would not be great.
On October 7th, I had the RPLND at Sloan in New York City. I woke up and was told the lymph nodes were only dead cancerous tissue and that I should be fine. But I couldn’t move my body and had tubes coming out of every hole in my body. The recovery was difficult for the first few days. I basically had to learn how to walk again. The first time I tried I collapsed back on my bed. About four days after the surgery I finally got a tube going down my mouth into my stomach removed. I felt like I could breath again and began to improve rapidly. I was taking laps around the hospital floor and playing pool in the recreation room, with my morphine drip still attached to my neck. I left the hospital after a week and returned home.
Once I returned home I recovered for another week and then returned to school, finished the semester and then spent the following spring semester back at my original undergrad school. I still wasn’t able to play tennis, due to the surgery, the extension when I served was painful. However, I did return to the tennis court for my senior year and led the team in victories and was named to the all-conference team. I graduated on time with my class and actually had a few articles written about me in newspapers around graduation time.
After graduation I went on to graduate school for two years and just graduated this past May with a Masters degree. I now live and work in Albany, New York.
I spent two days last June back at my High School where I spoke to the junior and senior boys gym classes about the importance of doing a TC exam and the disease itself. I don’t really know why I got TC or what it means yet; I’m still only 24 years old and will have my four-year anniversary of being cancer free in January. I still have check-ups and TC and cancer in general will always be a part of who I am and my life.
I will close by reiterating much of what the TCRC stresses, do self-exams, know your body, and go see the doctor if you think something is wrong. The TCRC was a great resource during my illness, and I sincerely thank all those who contribute and work on it.
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