May 27, 2001
About three months ago, I noticed my left testicle felt a little swollen. I didn't pay much attention to it as it wasn't remarkably swollen, and I wasn't sure if it was really swollen or just my imagination. I woke up the next morning and noticed it was really swollen and asked my wife to take a look. My wife didn't need to get close to make the examination, as soon as she saw my left testicle she gave a look and let out a gasp that made me know something was wrong. Seeing as that the last time I saw a doctor was when I was a kid, I wasn't quite sure who to call. So I went to the emergency room under the pretense of an earache and cold that I couldn't shake for the past 3 weeks (which was true, but I wouldn't of gone to a doctor for it much less an emergency room). The emergency room physician gave me antibiotics for the earache and told me to make an appointment with an urologist he referred me to. Then he said it again, and once more for good measure. "Frank, it is very important that you follow up on this, I can't stress enough not to let this go." I knew something was definitely wrong, but cancer didn't enter my mind. I was young and had no idea that testicular cancer hit young men.
I visited the urologist on the following Monday. Initially, I saw a physician's assistant who told me to drop my pants so he could have a look. This must be the pre-diagnostic phase for the urologist, if the PA doesn't see anything, the doctor really doesn't have to waste his time. The PA definitely saw something he wasn't familiar with as shown by the expression on his face and the quickness in which he retrieved the doctor. After the doctor examined "the growth", he asked me to get dressed and take a look at the chart on the wall. Know it now: when a doctor asks you to examine a chart of body parts hanging on his wall, you're screwed. He showed me a picture of the male system from the testes to the lymph nodes that reside in your midsection. I asked him to cut to the chase and he stated I might have cancer. While stating this, he put his hand on my shoulder and both he and his assistant had those long faces associated with bad news. I actually think they expected me to break down in the office; I'm not that way.
I wasn't particularly bothered by the news, because it had already been a devastating week. I was told in the past week that my 2½ year old son was autistic (which did cause me to break down and cry for the first time in the past 25 years). Anything following that news really didn't mean much to me, even the thought of my own mortality.
The doc then repeated the word "cancer" several times as he must not have understood my reaction or thought me as dense. I told him I was quite aware of what cancer was (I did a lot of research on this page once I was told to see a Urologist), and I wanted only to get rid it of it as fast as I could and could we please forego the "poor me" discussion.
Every day I had to wait for another procedure was agony. I couldn't believe that I would have to actually schedule anything with anybody. I had cancer. Unfortunately, so did many other people. I went in for my ultrasound and to my delight, it wasn't one of the beautiful receptionists working at the desk who was going to perform it. Unfortunately, it was the beautiful receptionists who had to hear that I was in to have my swollen testicle checked out. That meant only one thing: this was a guy who was going to be without a nut pretty soon. It was emasculating. All of the sudden I was going to be some kind of one-balled freak.
Anyway, I went in to see the sonogram specialist and was relieved it was a guy, no embarrassment problems there. As he performed the sonogram, he did have me a little worried. Not worried about my testicle, it was so large it was foregone conclusion that it was cancer, but his reference to my urologist as a "hack" and an "asshole". This was one disgruntled tech. I dismissed this as a disgruntled worker as I came to find out later that this tech had actually been reading the sonograms to the patients, and had told one lady she had a tumor and it ended up he was wrong. The doctor ended up finding out about this from his frenzied patient and had verbally derided this tech about his "diagnosis".
The wait for the sonogram result was four long days, even though I knew it would be positive. I saw the doctor and he gave me the same shoulder patting and long face routine. I told him to just set up a surgery date. I asked about a prosthetic nut and he said that silicone was very dangerous, and I accepted his advice not to get a replacement. The date was set for the next week at the "surgi-center".
I arrived at the "surgi-center" and was laid out on a gurney in my latest fashion accessory of the month, a XXXL gown. I had asked my wife to drop me off and not to stay with me during the procedure. She didn't agree at first, and I told her that it was much easier for me to handle if I knew she wasn't just sitting outside. She reluctantly agreed after my magic statement. "I'm the one with cancer, please just do this for me". I know it's a shitty way to use the disease, but it really was important to me to go through this period by myself. I had to get into the right frame of mind and that couldn't include consoling anybody or being consoled.
I was nervous, but then I noticed I was the youngest guy by about 40 years in the place. I thought that if these old people can handle having surgery, I shouldn't be worried. But seeing these elderly people also depressed me. Is this what I had to look forward to in 40 years? Despair, illness and sorrow seemed the mainstay for these people. I made a vow at that point; if my life did evolve to utter hopelessness in the next 30 or so years, I would get on my motorcycle and do 160 over the first available bridge.
I arrived in the operation room with the anesthesiologist. He hooked me up to an oxygen machine and told me to breath deeply. He lied to me stating I would be inhaling only pure oxygen, the next thing I knew I was waking up. My first thought was to get the hell out of this place. I don't like to be out of my element, especially when I'm vulnerable and need to depend on people. I was asked if I needed more painkillers, which I did need but didn't want to prolong my stay here. I was told that the painkiller could make me drowsy, so I declined. I kept falling back asleep in the recovery room, even though I fought as hard as I could to stay awake.
I finally requested that I be put into one of the recovery reclining chairs so I could shake myself awake. The nurse offered to call my wife and son to have them come when I was an hour away from release. I finally came around enough to be wheeled out to my truck for my ride home. That ride home was the worst I could remember. It was similar to being so drunk that every move would make you want to turn green and heave everything out of your guts.
Once home the recovery process went surprisingly fast. I took the painkillers only when needed, and was anxious to get back to work. The doctor received my pathology results in a few days, and they were somewhat disturbing. It showed that I had a large seminoma in my right testicle, even though my left was operated on. It also showed that I had a seminoma in my left testicle, even though it wasn't touched. After bringing this to the attention of the doctor (he didn't notice the discrepancy) he said not to worry that it was only a typo. That made me feel better (slight sarcasm).
I was scheduled for a CT scan that week that required I drink a quart of some ungodly mixture that I can only describe as chalk dust mixed with water prior to the actual scan. While getting prepped for the scan, I was made to drink another concoction that resembled kool-aid, only it tasted like Jim Jones had made it. I felt confident about the CT scan until I visited my doctor the next week. He gave me the death line first "Frank, take a look a this chart and I'll point out where the problem is".
At this point, I had had enough. The doc stated that there was a barely noticeable inflammation of one of my lymph nodes. He exactingly retraced the path the cancer cells had taken to reach my nodes, a direct and efficient path it was. Then he said something that almost caused me to physically assault him and his wonder boy PA. He said "don't worry about it, have a good weekend", and wonder boy nodded his head in agreement. I looked at both at them and politely asked them "are you fuckin' nuts? What the fuck do you mean don't worry about it? My cancer has spread and all you have to say is don't fuckin' worry?"
Needless to say, doc and wonder boy were shocked. I asked them "what the fuck are my options now? Don't bullshit me." He stated I should get radiation, so I told him to set up the appointment. I felt like I should apologize for my vulgar outburst, but then I figured doc and wonder boy might remember this the next time they want to tell somebody whose cancer has spread "don't worry about it."
Believe it or not, my meeting with the radiation oncologist was actually pleasant. I went from the medical drones at my urologist's office to an office full of real people. By "real people", I mean these people were friendly, reassuring, understanding, caring and called me by my first name. I did exist as more than a number or a fee. The doctor explained to me the pitfalls of radiation and the remarkable effect it had on pure seminomas. This really encouraged me and I wanted to start this right away. He also gave me a prescription for the nausea that would be associated with radiation and told me to only take it if I needed it. I scoffed and thought that I would never be filling this prescription. I have a good consistency.
The first day I was marked up on my chest and back to have "markers" for the radiation and it immediately flooded my mind with memories of my mother. My mother passed away from breast cancer in June of 1995 after a four-year battle. Every procedure I went through, from the operation to the CT scan to this brought back memories of what she had to suffer through. I said a silent prayer as they were marking my body and asked for her forgiveness for not understanding what she really had to go through at the time. Not that our family didn't sympathize and care to our limits, but until you go through this process, you have no inclination of what if feels like.
I was told that I would have 15 treatments of radiation at a low dose. I was also told that due to the large field that the radiation would cover and the organs it was hitting, I could expect to have digestive problems. Once again I thought "not me." For the first hour after radiation, I was fine. The doctor had told me if I were to get sick, it would be in the first hour, I figured I was home free. Hour two had me dry heaving over my toilet to the point that I thought my eyeballs were going to pop out of their sockets. My wife drove to the store to get my previously unfilled prescription filled. She found me curled up on the bathroom floor upon her arrival. I swallowed that first pill (Reglan) and waited for it to do it's magic. It did. Not since taking that pill have I been nauseous, although I sleep for about 16 hours a day.
The one positive thing this did have on me is that I now live my life. My mother told me when she was sick; don't worry about the little things. Things like bills, taxes and asshole bosses will always be there. If you have your health, you are truly blessed. She was never more right.