I'm Fifteen Years Cancer Free
This year marks the 15 year anniversary that I've been cancer free. I received my last chemo treatment sometime right before Christmas in 1997. I wrote this documenting my experience during the time I was going through this at 17 years old during my senior year of high school. I'm copying it below in its original form. Some of it is not accurate, such as being sterile. That's not true anymore and not due to a miracle either, as I stated. I want to make it obvious that I didn't mention God or religion on purpose. I came to terms with my beliefs before the time this happened to me and got through it just fine being who I am. I shouldn't have to say this, but I read so many stories like this giving all credit to some thing else other than the person going through it, those supporting them, and those treating it based on scientific research/knowledge. It's like a "who can pray the hardest" contest that is counter-productive. If that's what gets you through great, but I didn't need it and still don't. I'd rather converse, be hugged and kissed by real people, but that's just me. I got/get lectured all the time about it and I think people who feel like I do need to know that it is perfectly fine to be the way you are. You are still beautiful regardless of what you believe or don't.
I learned a lot from this experience. I reflect on it often to realize how fortunate I am to have the wife, family and friends that I do. I am lucky that my family was able to do whatever it took to get the treatment and care that I needed without making tougher life decisions. After re-reading this I realized that I've always had a potty mouth, I'm a much better writer thanks to years of higher education, I thought I was so punk by spelling thanks and sucks with x's, I always try to use humor to make a bad situation better, and more men need to take care of themselves and be open about it. Get the care and preventative care knowledge you need to make informed decisions about your health.
The picture is from Halloween 1997 in front of the Lizard and Snake in Chapel Hill. Our band at the time, The Chip-Punx (there's that X again), played a rad show there while I was undergoing treatment. I needed that and will never forget how awesome it was. I was lucky to be surrounded by so many awesome people and didn't lay around feeling sorry for myself. Living life to the fullest is what got me through. It still does.
Cancer at 17?
I'm not much of a writer but I guess I should start out with an introduction, so here goes...I don't think the "average" seventeen year old goes around worrying about the threat of a disease called cancer. I mean they have a lot more other things to worry about like getting through school, boyfriends/girlfriends, jobs, what they are doing this weekend, etc. The only disease that most worry about is probably AIDS. Well, I know I didn't think twice about getting cancer until I found a "bump" I thought was harmless.
One day sometime back in late March I was just hanging out in the house. I had my hand "innocently" down my pants (o.k. perverts stop fantasizing) and I noticed an obtrusion on my left testicle. For a guy this is like hitting the flashing red panic button. I kind of blew it off for a few days thinking it would go away. I was wrong. It stayed and so I decided to do something about it. I decided to approach my parents about it and get an appointment with the urologist. Well, if you know my mom which I'm sure some of you do, you know she is a nervous wreck. It wasn't an easy thing telling my parents this especially since my sister had fought off a rare form of cancer about five years ago. So, the appointment was made and step one was taken.
After the doctor felt me up (this hurt cause the "bump" got sore) he thought it might be some inflammation of the some male part (can't think of the name). He gave me some pills to take for about two weeks. Well, it still didn't go away. The panic button was hit again. Now, I got an ultrasound of the testicle so they could look at the "bump". After this and some blood test the doctor ruled the "bump" a tumor. Now for step two surgery. On April 8th (I definitely remember this day), I was to have my left testicle removed. It was an outpatient type surgery so I was only there for about five hours (you guys are probably in amazement. You probably think you would have to stay there for a week!) There was a little pain and walking was kind of hard but it wasn't that bad. I went back to school after about two days. I can still function normally like someone with both of their testicles. That's a good thing. The next step was getting follow up checks on the testicular cancer.
Step three was pretty easy. After the testicle had been removed my blood test came back normal. This step also required me to get CAT scans to check for signs of spreading. The tests still started to come back clean and I had talked to another doctor about a possible surgery in which they go in and take out your lymph nodes. This is a major surgery and I had ruled it out. I'm glad I did. They only do this to guarantee non-spreading of the cancer. Well, we were already monitoring it through the tests and if there was anything shown as a result of the surgery or the tests chemo was necessary. Why get the surgery and then take the chance of having to get chemo, too? That's what would have happened to me. Anyway, until about August my test came back normal. On my August appointment I had a strange feeling about going to see the doctor. I felt like something was wrong. I was right. My blood markers had gone up which meant that there was still some cancer left to be fucked with. I think the normal number was like 3-5 and mine went to 9 so it wasn't that much at all. In fact at first my number was at like 125 or something like that. It was microscopic but chemo was going to have to be the next step to get rid of this cancer. It was a hard thing dealing with this a first. Especially seeing your mother all upset over this.
I remember that day after I found all of this out I drove my girlfriend, Julie (a big reason why I am getting through this so well),back up to Chapel Hill. It didn't really affect me that much from what I remember. I think I took and am still taking this well. I try not to let it bring me down or ruin what good I have.
All of this seemed like some kind of blur because it happened so fast. The first visit with the oncologist was a consultation. He went over what was going to be done and all that other bullshit. He said I would do well with it and the only thing would be losing the hair on my head. I really didn't mind this. I started to lose it during the end of the first cycle. It freaked me out at first because you could tell it was falling out. Thanx to my dad, Matt, and Mike Gambella for having fun taking me down to the scalp! I would be monitored throughout the treatment through blood tests and the doctor listening to my lungs, etc. We talked to a chemo nurse about the possible side effects that might come up. Because of my age though she said I wouldn't have much to worry about. The only things that have bothered me are fatigue (I feel tired a lot more than I normally did), I've been sick (nausea) a few times, I get this acid like buildup in my chest sometimes, and my fingernails are gone because I am a nervous wreck. Sterility has become a problem now, but I didn't plan to have kids now anyway! I most likely won't be able to later unless some miracle happens and I become unsterile. The nurse said that I would do fine and she was more worried about my mom than me! I didn't blame her because so was I. I was now to start cycle one of four on September 30th.
Ever since that first day this has become a routine. It's like going to school or going to work. It is a pain in the ass. I go for five straight days on the first week and on Tuesday the following two weeks. That is one cycle (a total of seven treatments). The five day week sux bad. I go in on Monday and talk to the doctor. I get blood taken for my blood test and get weighed. Then as I do every time I go I get my blood pressure and temperature taken. Then I get stuck with a needle in my arm somewhere and then the IV is started. On the full week I sit in the chair watching soap operas (my favorite-sarcastic) and dumb shows for about 2 1/2 hours! It is the most boring time you will ever spend. I find myself staring at the bags and this makes it longer. I get two drugs called VP-16 and CIS-Platin. By the end of the week I feel like shit. I started to feel better the Monday or so after. The Tuesday weeks are great because I go in there and sit for about 40 minutes. I just get a drug called Bleomycin on those days. I have to watch this drug though because it can burn my skin if a vein messes up. This hasn't happened but my vein has collapsed about four times. It doesn’t feel good. The cool part about going is that the nurses back there are wonderful people. They really care for you. The patients there too are really nice. A lot of them like to talk to me because I am the youngest person that goes to get treatments there. I am also the only one there right now with testicular cancer.
I am now in my third cycle and am approaching my fourth. I dread that final five day week. I know it is going to be rough. I will finish on December 16th, a week before Christmas. What a Christmas present that will be! You learn a lot of shit from this and grow up more from it. It's like my girlfriend says, "that which does not kill us makes us stronger." She is 100% right. Attitude is the most important thing in fighting this. Don't let this keep you down. It is not the end of the world even though it seems like it. It's hard to stay positive, but you have to do it.
At first I got emotional about having to go through this, but I decided that I need to stay strong and kick the shit out of it instead of being depressed about it. You go through a lot of hassle and things you don't want to deal with. I see other people suffer because this happened to me and I wish they didn't have too. It makes me feel bad that someone is upset over me. I didn't want to shave my head but I dealt with it. It really isn't that bad now. I kind of like it, but I can't wait for my hair to grow back. It's too damn cold!
I know this is long and I appreciate it if you made it this far. I just felt like writing this. Maybe it will enlighten someone or help somebody out. I am glad that I have the people I do around me that care about what I am going through and worry about me. That means more to me than you could ever know. To know that someone cares is a great feeling. These people are what gets you through this. I wish I could thank each person individually but there are too many to mention. You know who you are. I know that somebody out there has it worse than I do. I see it every day. It upsets me to see these people sitting there sick and having to go longer than I do. I wish there was some magic cure for all of this, but there isn't. I am really lucky because the statistics are behind me. My doctor says that he has only had one patient with this that the cancer came back and he had it ten times worse than I did. I think the chance for reoccurrence is like 2%. Testicular cancer is the furthest along as far as cure goes. My blood markers have already dropped to normal so I know it is working. The good thing is that after the rain comes a rainbow. Boy, am I ready for the rainbow.
If you have any questions or comments please feel free to get in touch with me. I don't mind talking about this at all.