Age at Diagnosis: 28 (2002)
How did you find out you were sick? What events led to the diagnosis?
Like most, I found out I was sick through my doctor. I was diagnosed with Testicular Cancer in November of 2002. The events that led to my diagnosis were simple enough. One night I was adjusting myself in bed and noticed a hard bump on my left testicle. My initial reaction was to simply wait it out and hope that it would eventually go away. After a week, the bump was still there so I decided to go to the doctor. The doctor indicated that it was probably nothing, but that I should go and get an ultrasound done just in case. Relieved, upon hearing the initial diagnosis, I put off the ultrasound for a few weeks. When I eventually got around to obtaining the ultrasound, they indicated that my doctor would contact me if something were wrong the very next day I got the phone call. The doctor indicated that there might be a chance that I have testicular cancer; however, he wanted me to see a specialist (a Urologist) who would be in a better position to assess my situation. Upon seeing the Urologist, he immediately informed me that there was a very strong possibility that I did in fact have testicular cancer; however, the only way to determine if this were the case was to have my testicle removed and a biopsy performed (standard procedure). The very same day that I met with the Urologist I also went in for surgery to have my testicle removed the biopsy indicated that I did in fact have cancer.
What year was it? What was your age at the time?
It was November 2002 and I was 28 at the time.
At what level of education were you at diagnosis?
I had completed my Masters in Business Administration (University of Victoria – 2000) in addition to an undergraduate degree in Biology (University of Windsor – 1998).
Do you work? He works as a senior forecasting analyst.
What was your diagnosis?
What were your first thoughts when diagnosed?
It was really almost a non-event, as I didn’t realize the seriousness of the situation I was 28 at the time, in the prime of my life and thought I was indestructible. I had my testicle removed, and was diagnosed with testicular cancer end of story, or so I thought. I didn’t realize that there was a chance that the cancer could spread throughout my body and that I would go on to fight this disease on two separate occasions over the following two years. The cancer came back in April of 2003 and again in May of 2004. When the cancer came back in May of 2004 things were extremely serious.
How did your family react?
My girlfriend (common-law partner of 5+ years) was understandably upset. My parents were in shock and felt a bit helpless as they live in Toronto and I live in Calgary.
How did your friends react?
My friends were very supportive and I was treated the exact same, which I thought was great.
What did your treatment consist of?
Medical Side: The medical side of treatment consisted of numerous things. Initially I simply had my testicle removed (an orchidectomy) and spent the night in the hospital. Follow-up included blood-work, CT’s, and X-rays. When the cancer came back in April of 2003, I went in for four round of chemotherapy. The protocol was that I would report to the hospital on a Sunday and would be released the following Saturday. During the week stay in the hospital I would undergo my chemotherapy. When released, I would go home for three weeks to rest up for my next session. This process was repeated four times. After the four rounds of chemotherapy were over they pronounced that the cancer was in remission. I went back to work in October of 2003, and I stayed healthy until May of 2004 when the cancer returned. This is when I realized that things were becoming very serious. I was referred to a different doctor, one that specializes in Stem Cell Transplants. The new protocol was for two rounds of chemotherapy that would prepare my body for two further rounds of High Dose Chemotherapy (Stem Cell Transplant). The two rounds of preparatory chemotherapy were far more intense than my initial experience with chemo (I never thought this would be possible). The procedure was very similar in that I would go into the hospital for a week; however, instead of three weeks of rest in-between, I would only be allowed two weeks.The next step was the stem cell transplant; however, before I underwent the stem cell transplant, I decided to get a second opinion and flew to Toronto. The doctor in Toronto suggested that I go in for surgery to remove my lymph nodes (the operation is referred to as a retroperitoneal lymph node dissection or an RPLND for short). Now I was in a situation where I had two different views on how to best cure me a stem cell transplant or major surgery. I decided to go with the surgery for a variety of reasons (one of them being that I am scared to death of going in for a stem cell transplant). On August 3rd I went in for surgery and on August 13, 2004 (Friday the 13th) the doctor told me that I was clear.
Non-Medical Side: It is very hard to put into words the non-medical side of the treatment and how I felt both physically and emotionally. For me, the chemo was sheer hell it made me extremely tired, I was always nauseous (no medication really helped) and I was very irritable. It felt like I was hung over and jet lagged all at the same time for my entire chemo experience. I try to describe to my friends/family what chemo was like for me, but words will not do it justice. In terms of my mental state I am usually a very level headed guy; however at the hospital all I had was time to think about why I was there. I kept going over the odds of me being in the very predicament that I was in (diagnosed with testicular cancer and having to fight it with what amounted to 6 rounds of chemo and major surgery).
In which hospital(s) were you treated?
The initial orchidectomy was performed at Rocky View Hospital (Calgary), chemo was administered at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre (Foothills Hospital, Calgary) and surgery was performed at the Princess Margaret Hospital (Toronto).
What is your current medical status?
Right now they say my cancer is in remission; however, only being cleared in August of 2004, there is a possibility that the cancer may return. I currently go in for blood work and a CT every three months.
How is life different for you now post diagnosis (physically, emotionally, socially, spiritually)?
I haven’t really lived a different life after being diagnosed. However, given my history and that the cancer came back on two separate occasions in less than a year there have been some changes. The biggest of which has been long term planning. When making a decision that will affect my life or my partner’s life numerous years into the future I am very cautious as the possibility that I become sick again is very real.
What is/was the toughest part of your challenge?
The toughest part of the challenge was mentally preparing to go into the hospital to face a week of chemo (the chemo wreaked havoc on my body). My time spent in the hospital was also no picnic as I was constantly throwing up, I hardly slept yet I was tired all the time, and there was no one there to really keep me company (during the day).
What is/was the best part of your challenge?
After my battles with cancer I have come to realize that there are very few things in life to get stressed out about. Another upside of this disease is the fantastic people that I have met who have also faced cancer. Finally, battling cancer has made me far more empathetic towards others.
What really motivated you to keep going while you were sick?
I have always been a very determined person when I was brought in for chemo I viewed it as almost a physical fight between myself and cancer and that I was going to walk away the victor.
What lessons or messages have you taken away from your experience?
There are two key lessons that I have learned from my experience with cancer. The first lesson is that there are very few things in the world that should get you angry or stressed out. When something doesn’t go my way in the course of a day, I think to myself if this is the worst thing that happens to me today then it really hasn’t been a bad day. The second lesson I have learned is that it is human nature to want more and we constantly push ourselves to acquire more but we must sometimes look at what we have. Whenever I get caught up this never-ending race (a race you can never win) I say to myself sure things could be better, but things could also be a hell of a lot worse.
What are your thoughts and feelings about your illness now? How have they changed since before your diagnosis?
The problem with cancer, at least for me, is that it is something that is always lurking in the background and will affect my long-term decision-making. Before cancer, decisions were relatively easy; now, the first thing I think about is my health.
What are some (if there are any you know of) preventative measures that people can take to lower their risk of having an experience like yours?
I don’t think that there is any measure that can be taken to prevent this disease (testicular cancer). However, for males between 15 and 35, testicular cancer is the most common cancer (at least that is what I have heard). Males in this category should perform self-exams once a month so that they can catch the cancer at an early stage (catching the cancer at an early stage will increase one’s survival rate).
Did you attend any support groups during your challenge?
If you did not attend a support group, why?
The primary reason I did not seek out any support groups was that during my battle with cancer, I was just so beat that I didn’t want to leave my condo. However, right now I am part of a hockey team that consists of players that have all been diagnosed with cancer. I also seek out forums like this one where, hopefully, my experience with cancer can help others.
How are you connected with Young Adult Cancer?
I saw a poster at the hospital (The Tom Baker Cancer Centre in Calgary) and went online to look at the site. I have participated in the 2005 Retreat which was one of the best experiences of my life. I can’t say enough good things about the organization; hats off to everyone involved with RealTime Cancer.
How long has it been since your last treatment?
My last treatment was in August of 2004. Ã¯Â¼Â©underwent surgery for a Retroperitoneal Lymph Node Dissection or an RPLND for short. The last session of chemotherapy I had took place in July of 2004.
How do you feel today, physically (any short or long – term affects of your diagnosis/treatment), emotionally, spiritually?
In terms of my physical self, I like to think I look the same and that I am in the same sort of shape that I was prior to my cancer experience; but I know this is not true. I have a 12 scar on my stomach from my RPLD surgery. I have a 1 scar on my chest where they put in the central line. I have a 2 scar below my nipple where they removed a growth that was suspected of being breast cancer. In terms of my physical endurance, when I engage in sporting activities I know I am not as fit as I was prior to my cancer treatment protocol. Sure I am getting older, but the six rounds of intensive chemotherapy have permanently affected my body and my stamina. In terms of my emotional/spiritual being, I am honestly very much the same is this a good thing or a bad thing, I don’t really know. Sure the cancer experience has changed me in subtle ways: I am more empathetic towards others and I appreciate the smaller things in life (e.g. a good cup of coffee); however, in terms of cancer being a life altering experience where it has fundamentally changed the way I live, this has not been the case. I have tried to find higher meaning as to why I got cancer and I have yet to find one. Sometimes I think to myself that the cell divided incorrectly and it is as simple as that.
How has your physical, emotional and spiritual well-being changed since the last time we checked in with you?
I am pretty much the same.
What are you doing today? (school, work, recovery, etc)
I am working at an oil and gas company in Calgary. It is an interesting situation compared to my previous job where all those I interacted with in the work place knew I had cancer (my relapse occurred while I was working at my previous employer). At my new place of employment, they have no idea that I am a cancer survivor (at least I don’t think so). It is sometimes nice to interact with people that don’t know my health history it brings a different dynamic.
When you see yourself 10 years down the road, how does the picture look? What’s in it, what do you like, what do you not like?
I honestly don’t know. I don’t think to myself where I will be 5 or 10 years into the future.