|12/29/96||Discovering the bump||Ouch!|
|1/19/97||First suspect cancer||Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit amphetamines.|
|1/22/97||1st Urology appt||What's up doc?|
|1/23/97||CT Scan||Mmmmm. . .milkshake!|
|2/3/97||Inguinal Orchiectomy||Kiss it good-bye!|
|2/10/97||Biopsy results||What is it man?|
|2/12/97||Oncology appt.- My Options||A fork in the road.|
|3/3/97-3/7/97||PICC line/1st Round Chemo||Living and dying in 3/4 time.|
|3/8/97-3/23/97||2 easier weeks||Bad Hair Day. . .|
|3/24/97-3/28/97||2nd Round Chemo. . .||Beware the Ides of March|
|4/9/97||Last day of chemo!||Across the Finish Line!|
Up until Dec. 29, 1996 life had been going about well as I could expect. I had finished my bachelors at the University of Colorado-Boulder in Spring of 1995 and started working for a local manufacturing company. I was engaged to the most beautiful person in the world, Julie, and we were both busy starting out our careers and having a good time with life.
Colorado is a beautiful state to live and play in. I had always considered myself really lucky health-wise. The worse thing I had to go through was an ill-timed case of mono during my first semester at CU. It made getting through that first year of college calculus just a bit more exciting. Despite an active lifestyle I had stayed away completely from most maladies except occasional stitches as a child. Not even a broken bone, knock on wood!
When I first discovered "the bump" it seemed innocent enough. Julie and I were hanging out in the hot tub celebrating the upcoming new year a little early when I felt this slight throbbing which was a little sore to the touch. Being in the particular sensitive area it was in, I was a little concerned but it didn't hurt that much. It would go away eventually I convinced myself.
The holidays came and went quickly with the normal diversions to celebrate the New Year. My bump continued to bother me, but only slightly. My mind was on other things that needed to be done and the days passed. Julie, my better (and smarter half), wasn't giving up as easily. She seemed persistent that I get it checked out.
Part of my resolution 1997 was to quit being so stubborn so I decided to pull out the PPO Health Care Provider directory and look up a local urologist. After calling around I eventually got an appointment set up with a local urologist. Little did I know it was the best thing I could have done. Making good on my resolution would quickly pay dividends.
Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit amphetamines.
The days continued to pass but my bump wasn't getting any more comfortable. Any pressure on the boys seemed to cause noticeable pain. By the end of the next week I was definitely becoming concerned as the pain was increasing. Luckily I had called on the appointment a few weeks ago so I didn't have wait any longer.
Doctors and hospitals seem to have their own system of time. I think there is a multiplier around 1.7 to 3.8 involved which, I think, allows them to get the best tee times. I was ready to go to my appointment sooner than I hoped. Realizing that this may be a little more serious than I thought, I started doing searches on the internet to see what the hell was going on.
The internet is great! I read a lot of stuff on Testicular Self-Examination and some possible scenarios. None of them seemed to fit except cancer. I didn't have any trauma so torsion seemed unlikely, it was just a bump bothering me a little. I called up the doctor one last time to see if I should come in immediately, and they said we'll see you for your appointment next Wednesday.
I read about Testicular Cancer but it just didn't seem to connect. After all, I'm a healthy, non-smoking, non-drug, generally healthy active 25-year-old. Cancer is something old people get, not young whippersnappers. Out of everything cancer seemed likely except for the fact that I was experiencing pain, something that seemed to be out of the ordinary from most of the Testicular Cancer resources. I question that because just about everyone I've read about does experience some pain as things progress. If not just wait! [Editor's Note: About half the guys diagnosed with testicular cancer experience some pain before their diagnosis.]
I was certainly feeling it by that weekend. It was sobering thinking that I may have cancer, hell, wasn't I invincible after 25 years? It doesn't seem possible but things kept pointing to it. Only one way to find out, though, go get it checked out by the doctor. Regardless, I read everything I could find so that when I went in to the doctor, I'd be ready even for the worse.
What's up doc?
I remember telling Julie about the possibility of cancer on January 19. Julie and I had been engaged since April 19, 1996, our 5th year anniversary of boyfriend/girlfriend status. We had been living apart for the last 10 months so she could pursue her career as an airline pilot. She spent most of 1996 in Alaska flying for South Central Air, a small commuter airline on the Kenai Peninsula and had just recently started with United Express out of Washington DC.
It was a difficult moment to share with someone you love that you might have a life threatening illness. I didn't know for certain at the time I had cancer, just the possibility was frightening enough. I knew she'd have questions so I made sure I had as many answers as possible and that I was okay with everything. I read a lot of other stories from TCRC and other sites and knew that this cancer is extremely treatable which helped me keep my head on. I was staying ahead of the game and preparing for even the worse.
On January 22 I went in for my appointment none too early. I was fortunate in my choice of a doctor, Dr. Emilia Ripoll at Avista Hospital in Louisville, CO. Especially for just opening up the PPO directory and choosing someone at a convenient hospital. She was very nice and seemed knowledgeable based on my research. Turns out that she also had some expertise in oncology and was a surgeon.
After dropping the drawers for a closer look, it was off to the ultrasound to another up close and personal look. I kept my spirits up, joking with the ultrasound tech, another woman. After all isn't that the proper etiquette while a complete stranger waves a wand on your jelly covered scrotum. Better ask Mrs. Manners about that in the future.
Her mood seemed to change as things progressed and she ran off telling me that she wanted the doctor to see what's up. She came back without my doctor but promptly sent me back with my photos. Well, something was definitely up so I hung out in my doctor's office (Yes, a real office! Not one tissue covered piece of furniture in the place.)
Sure enough, it was cancer. Despite having my suspicions, nothing is quite as shocking as hearing you have cancer. Nothing would ever quite be the same. We went out to check the photos and the tumor was plainly there. I asked if it could be anything else, but she said any type of mass like this would almost certainly be cancerous.
Next thing I know I'm off to give blood and a freshly collected semen sample. "John, I'm sorry to tell you have cancer, now can you please ejaculate into this cup!" Needless to say I've had more enjoyable times completing this activity. Unfortunately Julie was at 24,000 feet flying somewhere so I couldn't share the bad news with her until later that night.
Oddly enough my parents called that night who knew nothing about my doctor's appointment. I struggled with the thought of telling them since I didn't know much else other than I had a potentially cancerous mass and I didn't want them to worry. I told them anyway and they handled it remarkably well. The next morning I would go in for my CT scan, a real critical piece of information as it would help determine if the cancer had spread or not.
Mmmmm. . .milkshake
I was in relatively good spirits that morning despite that fear that I might find out my body was riddled with the disease. I joked with the technician and drank my two CT milkshakes, had a sensible lunch (just kidding), and it was off to the doughnut (i.e. the CT scanner). I couldn't help but be fascinated by the technology they used on me. Glad my insurance was picking up most of the tab.
The CT scan is pretty uneventful other than a huge syringe of iodine they would pump into me, a computerized voice telling me when to hold my breath, and the whine of the imaging device. I had to bite my lip to keep from saying "Transport Room, one to beam aboard."
Soon it was off to my doctor's office to check out the results. Woo hoo! No signs of spreading from the CT scan, things were looking good as a Stage 1. I also got my blood test back for markers which came out NORMAL. I thought this was a good thing at first. More about that later. Despite the generally good results, the orchiectomy was still going to happen.
We spent the rest of appointment talking about it and what was ahead as a Stage 1 cancer patient. One of the suggestions was hitting the old sperm bank to make a deposit so every other day for a week it was up bright and early to drive 30 miles out of my way to do the deed. Not bad work if you can get paid for it, but I wasn't shooting Harpoon missiles at the time, just enough motile swimmers to make my quota and get on with the surgery.
I was surprised at the number of guys at work who had to do the same because of fertility problems or vasectomies. It was almost like joining a club; trading stories and joking about the experience. Also, don't bother bringing the significant other with the hopes of killing two birds with one stone. It's against the rules and bad donation etiquette! Bummer, huh?
Kiss it good-bye!
February 3 rolled around quickly as I scampered to schedule time off work and let most of the family know about my affliction. Julie was able to get the week off as well to take care of me. My parent offered to come in, but I was in capable hands. It was a couple quick thousand dollar questions by the anesthesiologist and under the knife. I don't remember going under and sooner than I knew it that cancerous little sucker was out of there quicker than a Andres Galarraga home run at Coors Field.
The next couple of days were pretty uneventful. I was able to get around pretty well but did make it a point to take any stairs slowly. You could feel the weak point from the incision and I wasn't about to bust my stitches. By Wednesday I was feeling well enough to try a movie. It wasn't the most comfortable but I made it through the move. Hell, who CAN get comfortable in those chairs! They must be made by the same people who make the seats on airlines.
I was glad that I decided to skip the entire week from work. I could get around but wasn't up for the drive (I have a manual transmission) and long walks involved. Luckily my work benefits were excellent, pretty much all my time off would be at full pay (about 25 days) and cover all but $2000 of my medical bills. I'm still trying to figure out the total cost. Let me tell you, your medical insurance premiums pail in comparison.
What it is man?
The week following my IO, I was heading off to New Orleans to visit a Salesperson and attend a conference on Customer Satisfaction Measurement. I was getting around fine that Monday after the surgery, just a little limping and one step at a time for the stairs. My pathology results came in either Monday or Tuesday, I can't remember. Well, I've heard better but I've heard worse too.
The primary tumor was approximately 1.8cm in size and consisted entirely of embryonal carcinoma. There was also evidence of vascular invasion. Not surprisingly, my tumor markers were still normal. These factors were very important for the next step, what's next for John. Just about everything pointed away from observation. The more embryonal, the greater likelihood of spreading. Vascular invasion provided a convenient superhighway and my blood wasn't going to give me a traffic report.
Being embryonal, a nonseminoma, it looked like it was off for RPLND and/or Chemotherapy. Yeah! Better make sure to have fun in New Orleans cause it's a tough road afterwards. It was then I learned how crappy it was not having markers. You don't have a way to tell, relatively at least, the level of cancer in your body. The only sign would be tumors large enough to be detected by CT scan or X-ray. [Editor's note: While it is not ideal to have normal markers, this absolutely does not imply that your markers would never go up if the cancer came back.] Given the high embryonal content alone I knew that metastasis was extremely likely. Throw on top vascular invasion, it was a lock. I think there was another factor, like if another type of cancer was present, my odds improved. Anyway, I had more than three strikes against me. Time to decide if it was off to surgery or chemo.
A fork in the road
I knew from TCRC that I would eventually need a good, board certified oncologist so I talked to a friend in the health field for recommendations. They were able to look up information on the locals doctors to make sure they had good credentials, good performance, and suggested a few in the Denver-Boulder area. Dr. Ripoll mentioned the same doctors so I felt confident about my choices. I picked Dr. Michael Johnson from Alpine Oncology at Boulder Community Hospital as he seemed to have the most experience with testicular cancer.
I went in for my appointment the day before I was supposed to leave for New Orleans. I boned up on the RPLND and Chemotherapy information from the TCRC and looked up the stories of other Stage 1s and 2s. The one thing that struck me was that just about everyone who did the RPLND, ended up doing the chemo because they found cancer in the lymphnodes. [Editor's note: It may have seemed that way to John, but it certainly is not true!] I couldn't understand why you would go through with the surgery if you had strong evidence of spreading. Everything I read seemed to indicate that chemo was the "silver bullet" that got you to the 98%+ success level. The only benefit of the surgery would be knowing for certain if cancer had spread to the lymphnodes.
Given my biopsy results, I was ready to bank on a dirty RPLND. The thing that put me strongly in the direction of chemo camp was the vascular invasion. If the cancer had access to my blood stream, it seemed logical that it could end up almost anywhere in the body. I couldn't find anything to support or deny this, but it made sense to me. I'd hate to do the surgery, come out clean and find a big honking tumor on my lung or brain down the road. Besides, the chances of a clean RPLND were just too small. I had heard everything from 40% to 90% chance of metastasis with my conditions.
Hoping my doctor would see the logic of my thinking, it would be any easy choice. Well, he recommended the RPLND. This is pretty much the textbook approach here in the U.S. I argued my case against the surgery, but I wasn't winning him over. He gave some clinical studies to read over and a week to think about it some more.
It was at this point the TCRC, particularly TC-NET, became the most valuable source of information I had. Luckily I corralled a laptop with a blazing 9600 baud modem so I could surf the net for more information and solicit advice from the TC community on TC Net.
There wasn't much support for skipping the RPLND, but I wasn't finding anything saying it would improve my chances of beating the cancer. Sure, I could come out clean and not have to do chemo, but odds pointed against it. To tell you the truth, chemo didn't scare me for some reason, so holding out for that possibility didn't motivate me. This whole thing started a good discussion on TC-NET and helped me clarify my arguments against the RPLND in my case.
Should I stay or should I go?
Despite my important decision, I managed to have an incredible time in New Orleans. Julie was able to jump seat on a flight down for the weekend and we preceded to have a great time. I had never been to New Orleans but the Salesperson I visited was a native. He pointed out the best places to eat, dance, and be mugged or killed.
You've got to be careful in New Orleans, one block in the wrong direction and you can be in big trouble. I can only imagine what Marti Gras is like, the French Quarter is just crazy no matter when you're there. Fat Tuesday passed just a couple of days ago and beads still hung from every balcony and tree branch. There was still plenty of fun left over as we danced the nights away and watched the Bourbon Street craziness.
For while I actually forgot I had cancer. That was good thing. The whole ordeal is a roller coaster, it was nice to get off the ride for a change. My conference passed quickly and soon it was back to business.
I went back to see Dr. Johnson with a few more questions on the chemotherapy. My last remaining question was whether or not the surgery would help determine the number of chemotherapy treatments. He said that in my particular case, 2 cycles would be recommended as there was no indication of large tumors from the CT scan. [Editor's note: This was wrong. The CT scan is falsely negative as much as 20% of the time. 2 cycles of chemo would not be good enough if the CT scan missed anything. Furthermore, any use of a 2 cycle approach is still very experimental and there is little long term evidence to support its use.]
Generally more cycles of chemotherapy are recommended if secondary tumors (i.e. not the testicle tumor) larger than 2 or 3cm are present. Luckily these sizes are typically visible with a CT scan so I was reassured enough that 2 cycles would get me where I wanted to go. Dr. Johnson seemed more supportive of my decision to just do the chemo.
Things at work were hectic for the next week so put off the chemo for another week. That was about the last week I could start without technically going on observation. Exactly one month after my IO, I started my first cycle of chemo.
Living and dying in 3/4 time.
It's hard to do anything but dread your first day of chemo. You've heard the not so fun details; nausea, vomiting, lack of energy, weight loss, and various other side effects. It's particularly hard when you don't have any signs indicating that you should go through with it.
For some reason chemotherapy never scared me. I approached it kind of matter of fact. If I have to do it, then I have do it. I can't change what I'm going through, but I can change my attitude. Might as well make it a good one. For me, the short term discomfort of chemo was far outweighed by the 95+% chance that I would never have a reoccurrence. As mentioned before, the particulars from the biopsy indicated that reoccurrence was just too likely.
To start out the chemo experience I decided to go with a "PICC line." This is a semi-permanent IV connection by which they can inject and draw directly to the blood stream. Of course if you just love to be stuck with needles and have veins a plenty, you can do it the old fashioned way. The two options are in the bend point of your arm at the elbow or up by the collarbone. I choose the arm because the collarbone required a simple surgical procedure with anesthetic. I was led to believe that the insertion into the arm also was done under local anesthetic.
Wrong! Here I am on my first day with Nurse Ratchet (actually she was very nice) who tourniquets your arm. We're not talking about any wimpy tourniquet like they do to draw blood, they want your arm to swell up like roadkill in the summertime. They warn you to turn you head away, breathe deeply, hold on to the assistant's hand, and bite down on this piece of wood. Just kidding about the piece of wood.
Once the entrapped blood really starts to build up pressure, they jab with what is the biggest damn needle they make. Let me tell you it hurt like HELL! I really began to question whether I should have gone with being stuck each day I did chemo. I looked over to see the 1" blunt pipe they shoved into my poor little vein and saw a significant quantity of blood all over the floor. More blood than I'd ever seen out of my body. The pain diminished quickly, thank GOD!
Turns out the needle is just larger than the plastic piping they stick into you. What is surprising is that this piping is about 2 feet long and goes all the way to the middle of your chest! Later in my treatment, I would appreciate having the PICC line because my once okay veins were nowhere to be found after 6 six weeks. More on that later. If I had to do it over again, I think I'd go with the collarbone option. I felt significant discomfort in my arm. It was very stiff and straightening it out was very uncomfortable so I kept it bent almost all of the time. I felt like Bob Dole, I just needed a pencil to hold on to and a prepared speech.
After my initiation into the realm of pain, it was time to be attached with my dancing partner for the week, the roll about IV bag hanger. For the next 6 hours I'd sit in this La-z-boy recliner waiting for my anti-nausea medicine, saline, etoposide, and cisplatin to drip into me. A few other people, all much older, were also getting a variety of chemo regimens. Everyone was really friendly and we talked briefly about our disease and treatment.
It was very informal, something that surprised me. I pictured a cancer ward with frail bodies in hospital beds attached to monitoring devices. This was a step up from the waiting area! Comfy reclining chairs, better magazines, all-you-can-eat Jolly Ranchers, and a water cooler!
For the first day or two I hung out in the main room as people came and went for their treatment. As the chemo wore on, I felt less and less social and more tired. There were a couple of beds in the back so I spent the rest of chemo treatment there so I could sleep comfortably.
The BEP schedule is much more heavy duty than most other chemotherapies. I was always the last to leave and only a few other people were there all week as I was. The good thing, though, is chemo only runs 3 weeks a cycle. I understand others can run for many months. The first week was the most uncomfortable for me. I always felt nauseated, tired, and had frequent headaches. My appetite was surprising still there even though I got blinding headaches after eating a small portion.
I was so glad my parents and Julie were around to wait on me. I wouldn't do it myself because I felt like crap and the only thing I wanted was my head on the pillow. I slept probably 12+ hours every day that first week. Another weird effect of the chemo is it made me very delusional. I had extremely weird dreams and I wasn't much to talk to when awake. My short-term memory buffer was about 3 seconds long. Most of the time I stared blankly into space and tried not to vomit. Surprisingly, I never got sick. I knew those years of college fraternity life would finally pay off! The best way to summarize chemo is that it is survivable, but it sure ain't a hell of a lot of fun.
Bad Hair Day. . .
I had hoped to go back to work the Monday following the 1st Cycle hell week but I was still too out of it to function. On Tuesday, I felt a little better, but still no go on getting back to work. Finally on Wednesday, I could stand for a while without getting dizzy and my brain felt like it could handle simple thought processes.
The biggest surprise was my appetite came back in force. For the first time in a week, food didn't give me a headache and it tasted SO GOOD. I had the best Whopper I've ever had and finished it down with equally good Blizzard from Dairy Queen. I was on top of world. No need to worry about that cholesterol and fat, I hope the old ticker goes before cancer decides to make a come back based on the last week. Chest pains pale in comparison in my opinion.
I had also lost about 7-10 pounds that week. I started at an already low 180 (I'm 6'0, medium build) and went down to the low 170s. Unfortunately I could tell much of that wasn't muscle. My legs looked thin and what little pects I had, were nonexistent. Not much fat, though, which was good. The second week came and went with only the Bleo to mar it. I didn't have any problems with the Bleo other than I took off half of the next day due to some light chemo effects.
I waited with my clippers in hand for the hair to start falling out but no luck. The doctor said it took about 2 weeks. I felt good enough to attend a friend's St. Patrick's Day party that 2nd weekend of my treatment. I had a couple of beers (against the doctor's wishes) to celebrate. Most people didn't notice anything different about me. I spent the night sitting down to keep my energy up, but felt pretty normal. It was nice to get some of my normal life back for those two off weeks.
On Monday it was back to work. I stopped by my friend's office to get details on his weekend's activities when he asked me about the hair. I jokingly told him, "Nope still stuck to my head" when I reached up to tug on it. This time I came back with a clump. Alert the press, John's shedding!
The hair loss is very much like a longhaired dog losing its coat. Clumps come out but there's not an apparent bald spot. I stopped by to show off my newfound talent to a few more friends before heading off to lunch and a haircut. I gaffed at the $12 price for a haircut and decide to haggle them down. After all, they could give me the clippers and I could cut my own hair in about 5 minutes. Luckily they agreed to a $5 Yul Brenner special. I did have a pair of clipper at home, but I didn't want to get hair everywhere so I went for it.
I imagine some people at work were perplexed, "Didn't he have hair when he left?" I carried a baseball cap around in my car for just this occasion. To tell you the truth, the hat rarely comes off, not because I'm embarrassed, it's just damn cold up there. There's some truth to that 80% of you body heat leaves through your head! Luckily my head looks pretty good, no flat spots, scars, or acne (a side effect of the anti-nausea medicine). Julie was back in Washington DC so the verdict was still out if Jean-Luc Picard or I was more sexy. My doctor nailed it right on, exactly two weeks after I started my chemo, the hair jumped ship.
Beware the Ides of March
I certainly wasn't looking forward to the 2nd cycle Hell Week knowing what the last time was like and the fact I was feeling pretty good the last two weeks. My parents were back in town to take me back and forth to chemo and feed me. I managed to finagle a nice Pentium laptop from my work so I brought it with to keep me distracted and check my email.
Strangely enough I didn't have the "sick" type side effects that I had the first week. I was becoming extremely fatigued as the chemo cumulatively beats up on the body. I didn't mind so much as I could just take it easy and not drain my energy levels. Eating didn't cause the headaches and I could eat more food. I had to question whether or not they were giving me the right stuff. This just seemed too easy.
Well, the rest of the week went this way and went quickly. No complaints here. The highlight of the week was getting the PICC line out. I figured that I could go through two sticks for the last two Bleos. The weather was beautiful and I was ready for golf and volleyball. An impossibility with this damn line in me. It comes out A LOT EASIER than it goes in. They just pull it out. It felt so good to bend my arm and not be continually sore.
Julie caught me at the tail end of week so my parents could take off. It was nice to be somewhat cognizant while she was around. It's hard to not see her, then see her when you're feeling like crap. It's like it doesn't count as good quality time like normal. Just one of those unfair facts of life you have to go through.
The weekend finally came and so did a sinus cold out of nowhere for Julie and I. We spent the weekend stuffing the wastebasket with Kleenex and watching movies. Neither one of us where in good shape. We were concerned because I knew my white blood cell count was probably at its worst. Dr. Johnson prescribed some antibiotics to help and told me to keep an eye on my temperature. Julie took off back to Washington DC that Sunday.
I didn't expect to be back to work until after Tuesday that fifth week. On Monday I felt worse than I ever had before. It's wasn't chemo, it was the flu! I coughed and blew my brains out all day. It was a miserable experience. Tuesday started out pretty good, I did a little work from home till lunchtime when I got another of my blinding headaches like from the first Hell Week. I fell asleep most of the day. I woke up feeling incredibly hot and sticky. I hopped up to go to the bathroom then collapsed back in bed.
The next time I woke up because the phone rang. It was Mom and Dad. They were just checking up on me. When I told them I was very hot and felt horrible, they said check your temperature. I went off to find the thermometer and sure enough I was over hundred. Given the thermometer typically read a couple degrees low, I thought a late night call to the doctor was warranted. I had him paged and waited for death or his phone call, whatever came first.
Luckily Dr. Johnson called back and we agreed to meet at the hospital around 9pm to get me checked out. I wasn't up for driving so I called my boss who lives just a few blocks away to drive me there. He was one of many people who had offered to help me, but he lived closest. I just hoped we could get in and out quickly (better add delusional to my symptoms). Besides, he'd know I wasn't faking those last two days off. I grabbed the first set of clothes I could find and my toothbrush. I looked and felt like hell, but at least I was going to the right place.
I had made the right choice by not driving. I spent most of the trip trying to stay upright. I checked in and was off to the emergency room to get some testing done before Dr. Johnson arrived. Of course my PICC line came out just a few days before so they had to do it the old fashion way.
Dr. Johnson finally arrived and we went through the normal doctor type questions. Initial tests looked good but the trip to get my chest X-rayed showed that pneumonia was present in my lungs. It wasn't bad, but it didn't appear to getting any better so I checked in that night. It wasn't such a bad idea. Eventually they wheeled me up to my room and hooked me up to an IV of antibiotics.
Later that night I had soaked the blankets from my overheated body and I was cold, clammy and shivering. The nurse came in about 3 or 4 in the morning and got me out of bed so she could change the sheets. Little did I know that nocturnal disturbances are what hospitals excel at. As one of the nurses jokingly put it, "Your here to get better, not sleep." Another thrilling service they provided was the 6:00am blood draw. Nothing like a good stick to start your day. I stayed in the hospital for the next three days to be the human pin cushion.
The nice thing was I was able to catch up on daytime talk shows. This just happened to be the time right after the Heaven's Gate people checked into Air Hale-Bop with a Stoli-Motts cocktail. It was quite humorous given my current condition; bald, minus a testicle. I was "Do" himself. I got a number of joking comments from friends on this parallel. When Friday rolled around, it was time to go. After all, nobody could get a good vein on me after about 1000 tries. Eventually they got me one last time so I could get my second to last Bleo before leaving.
Across the Finish Line!
I felt significantly better after my hospital stay. They gave me the white blood cell booster to help me through and antibiotics killed off the pneumonia. I was on the up swing! I went back to work that Monday. Wednesday rolled around and I was off to get my last Bleo on April 9th! With one last stick, I finished the last of chemo, said thank you to the nurses Andrea and Jan who took such good care of me, and I was a free man.
Since then I've slowly regained my strength, weight, and hair (about 1/8" a week). After 2-3 weeks I was back to more strenuous activities, biking, rollerblading, etc. My cardiovascular was way down but I'm making headway. The whole thing now seems so far away and I like to keep it that way. It is a not an experience I hope to go through again. However, I'm glad I did it because I have the piece of mind that reoccurrence is only a few percentage points. Now I live my life as a Cancer Survivor. I'll have check up x-rays and blood tests every other month for the next year and slowly space them out for the next 5 years. By then they say you're in the clear.
Luckily the medical bills were almost entirely covered by my insurance. At last count, my total bill as approaching $60,000. I will have to cover about $2000 of that. Not a bad deal. Many people aren't as fortunate. If you don't have insurance, I'd look into it. Those premiums aren't as expensive as they look.
Time is much more precious to me now. I've cheated death through the miracle of modern medicine and the love of the people around me. TC-NET has and continues to be a great resource for me. Now that I'm through it all I can help others who will follow. It is a great feeling to help others and spreading the word on TC and other cancers. Knowledge is truly power in fighting this disease. Others will follow. In fact a friend of mine was diagnosed with cervical cancer just recently. She is doing very well now.
I'm amazed by the people affected directly, or indirectly by this disease. The Nation Cancer Institute says 1 out of 2 people will get cancer. I've met a lot more of those people because of the hair loss. Others come up to me and ask me why I shaved my head and I tell them the story. Some are shocked but all know a little more about cancer and what to look for. In some ways, it is blessing to go through all of this because it gives you the ability to potentially save someone else's life. Truly a powerful feeling. If you here because you think you or someone you love has a potential sign of cancer GO GET IT CHECKED OUT! Time is against you with cancer! If you know you or someone you love has cancer, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org, sign up for TC-NET, and hang in there. I'd be happy to pass on any information or support I can. Good luck to everyone out there, the finish line is closer than you think.