Jason's Testicular Cancer Story
Written by Jason
I was diagnosed with stage II testicular cancer in 1988 at the age of 16. The course of action at that time was a left orchiectomy followed by three rounds of chemotherapy. The hope was that the chemo would take care of the enlarged lymph nodes. Stage II means the cancer has spread beyond the testicle. Looking back, had I acted sooner, the cancer might not have spread. I was 16 and sexually active, so when one of my testicles began to swell, I thought I had an STD. I guess my hesitation was a normal part of growing up and experimenting with sex. The truth, although most never admit it, is YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT SEX REALLY MEANS AT 16. Anyway, I waited weeks before telling anyone about my very enlarged testicle.
While I was undergoing treatment, I kept up with my school work and finished 11th grade. All was going well. The chemo seemed to have done its job, and things were pretty much back to normal. I started 12th grade, and not long after, I relapsed. Enlarged lymph nodes were discovered on a routine CT scan. This time, my treatment would be far more aggressive, and I had to drop out of high school my senior year. I underwent a retroperitoneal lymph node dissection (RPLND), three rounds of high-dose chemo, and a bone marrow transplant. Not to mention all of the other small surgical procedures. About seven in total, but who's counting? I would be lying if I said it wasn't that difficult. Life while going through all of this is separated into good and bad days. Some are good, some bad, but even a bad day can have drops of good in it. You just may have to look for those. That concept is one that not only helped me through my bout with cancer but has stayed with me to this day. You see, there is good in everything, but it is not always easily seen.
Following the three rounds of high-dose chemo, I was placed in the transplant room. The transplant room is a sterile environment. Anyone entering has to wear a cap, gown, mask and gloves -- like surgeons when they operate. In most cases, the immune system is wiped out from the high-dose chemo, so the transplant room is the only safe place until the immune system comes back around. The way they re-infuse the marrow is the same as getting blood. It is infused intravenously, no pain at all. You get a strange taste in your mouth during the infusion, but that goes away quickly. I have no words to describe this taste.
Everyone's length of stay is different. It all depends on how fast your immune system comes back. For me, it was 21 days. Now keep in mind this was pre-Internet. Not a whole lot to do in there. Visitors have to get all dressed in cap, gown, etc., so there were only so many of them. Thank God for my wonderful doctor and the nurses. They were the ones that kept me sane during those days. When I was finally released from my cell (so it seemed), there was a big sign hanging in the hallway put up by the nurses. It read, "No sex for six months." Not that funny, but I was treated in the children's section of the hospital. I still wonder what the parents that read that sign must have been thinking.
I returned to high school the following year to finish up and graduate. One of the single best events in my life happened that year. I met my wife in government class. As I said, there is good in everything. If not for cancer, I would have never met her or had our wonderful daughter. March 2008, we will celebrate our 11th wedding anniversary. We started dating February 15, 1991, and one of the first places I took her was to the hospital. I had to have my mediport removed and asked her if she would go with me. I wish I had a picture of her face.
As I was writing this, I realized it was 20 years ago I was diagnosed and about 18 years ago that I finished treatment. I'm more then twice my age when I was first diagnosed. I love life and enjoy each day. For me the past 18 years have been a bonus, in a sense. When I relapsed, I was told I had a 50/50 chance. I'm one of the lucky ones that was blessed with the good 50%, and I live my life that way. I know one day my luck will run out, but until that day I will (to quote Lance Armstrong) "Live Strong."
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