Testicular cancer: Twenty years later

It was twenty years ago today that I walked into Parkview Hospital in Fort Wayne to have an inguinal orchiectomy to remove my left testicle. It was a scary time, even though I knew that I probably would not die from the cancer: It was caught in Stage 1 and had not spread, so the surgery got it all. I was not even in much pain after the surgery. I only took a few of the prescription painkillers I was given.

The key here is I am not a tough guy by any means. I have quite possibly the world’s lowest pain tolerance, so when I say something does not hurt, it really does not hurt.

Even though I had a fairly easy time, surviving cancer will always be a major part of my life. At twenty three years old, I looked directly at death. A cousin I adored had died just a year and a half earlier from cancer, so I understood my mortality and how quickly things could go badly. Most importantly, it reminded me that the Bible is right in James 4:13-15. Life really is a vapor. You are here a little while and then you are gone. Furthermore, God tells us in Proverbs that those who spare the rod hate their children. This is because as our loving Father, God brings suffering into our lives to discipline us. (See Hebrews 12:5-8.)

I remember sitting in class the Friday before Spring Break, knowing that I likely had testicular cancer and worrying about the next week. I don’t remember anything that was said, though I do remember feeling isolated as I looked around the room. I went to the doctor on Monday and a specialist on Wednesday. The specialist suggested surgery the next day or on Friday, and I chose Friday. I needed an extra day to process and mentally prepare myself for the surgery – which as I stated above was not all that bad.

The next few weeks were a blur. I had to drop out of college, though I knew I would be back in August. I spoke with my friends in the College Republicans and let them know I would not be back until August, and lost the spring semester and the work I had done up to that point. I completely forgot to tell my dormitory, so my resident assistant was shocked when I told him why I was moving out. That was definitely a bone-headed move on my part. I normally work during the summer, but not in 1997. I went on to gain thirty pounds that summer as I sat around the house in between doctor appointments.

There was a bit of a blip in the weeks following the surgery. The biopsy of the tumor found only seminoma cancer cells, but the alpha-fetoprotein levels in my blood were elevated. By the time this was discovered, too much time had passed for a second blood test (which found no elevated AFP levels) to be useful. Therefore, the elevated levels presented three possibilities: Either it was a false positive, or there were non-seminoma cells in the tumor, or I was pregnant.

We ruled out the third option pretty quickly, so my treatment plan needed to change. Instead of radiation treatments, I would be in surveillance for five years. I was pronounced cancer-free in 2002.

Testicular cancer is the most common form of cancer in men between fifteen and thirty-five years old, but survival rates are very high when caught early. Men should be doing a monthly testicular self-examination to check for irregularities. If you find a lump or if you notice a size difference, go to the doctor. Procrastination is like playing Russian roulette when dealing with cancer.