My grandfather taught me how to ride a bicycle when I was six. I became an avid bicyclist, even using my bike as one would a car. I had accidents as most anyone would have on their bike. But if someone had said back when I was six, "Fred, I really think you should consider swimming or jogging instead of bicycling," well, it would have made total sense.
The American Cancer Society reports that there are a number of risk factors for a man to be predisposed to Testicular Cancer. Two of those risk factors apply to me:
I was born in the State of New York in 1955 with a lower, right groin hernia. This was inherited from my father, who inherited his from his father. The State of New York considers this condition a birth defect and the state paid for my inguinal hernia operation in 1979. During recovery, I took note that my right testicle was larger than it was before the operation.
In school - elementary, junior, senior, college - I never took any precaution for the birth defect and was never advised to do so. The only thing I was warned about was to make sure I had a regular bowel movement.
In late 1996, I had an accident that resulted in my right testicle being larger than it was before. I continued bicycling, however, and just was more careful in how I rode.
It took a while, a long time, but the right testicle got larger. It didn't hurt although it did ache from time to time. I thought about going to a doctor many times over the next 2-1/2 years but was too embarrassed. I had health insurance but it didn't take care of pre-existing conditions.
In early 1999, I had a bicycle accident that landed me in the hospital with a skull fracture and dislocated shoulder. I also suffered from temporary amnesia, actually discharging myself from the hospital - I walked out the Exit door without telling anyone before the doctor could see me. I have no idea how I made it home, 25 blocks away. But that's another story. The main point is I damaged the right testicle again, but this time something was definitely wrong.
Over the next 6 months, the right testicle grew even larger - if that was possible - and a mass was developing on the surface. It was totally weird, too, because that mass never seemed to be in the same place twice.
In August of 1999, my new health insurance plan went into effect. It covered pre-existing conditions and I saw my new doctor right away, who sent me to an urologist right away, who in turn sent me for an ultrasound right away. The mass in my right testicle - now the size of a grapefruit - had to be removed.
In September of 1999, I had surgery that involved the removal of my right testicle. An incision was made in my groin and the testicle was withdrawn from the scrotum through the opening. Funny thing is, the doctor used the scar from the 1979 inguinal hernia operation.
The diagnosis: the mass in the testicle was a malignant tumor. After a CT Scan of the abdomen and pelvic areas, the diagnosis was refined: it was a Stage IIB Testicular Cancer (the cancer has spread into nearby lymph nodes, a small spot in the pelvic area and a larger spot - 5 cm or 2" - in the abdomen). A CT Scan done a month later showed that there was no further spread of the cancer through the lymph nodes or body organs north of the abdomen and up to the lower neck.
In November of 1999 and on the day I was to begin Radiation Therapy, I was told that I'd be receiving Chemotherapy instead because of the level of a serum tumor marker called hCG. My hCG level before the surgery was 19,700 (normal is 2 or under). The other 2 serum tumor markers were in the Stage IIB range for Testicular Cancer, but the hCG level through me into the Stage III range. My case had been presented before the hospital's Tumor Board and by this I received about 8 second opinions. [Editor's note: Staging is defined by the location of the tumors, not the elevation of the markers. An HCG level of 19,700 is pretty high, but it does not make it a Stage III tumor.]
Chemotherapy began the day after my birthday, and as Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Eve and the Super Bowl came and went, I got better. The cancer is gone, the hCG level is now 2 or under, and now I have regular checkups, blood tests, and CT Scans to monitor my progress.
Chemotherapy was no piece of cake, but it wasn't the nightmare that I thought it would be. The worst part about Chemotherapy was not being able to know what would, could, or might happen. Chemotherapy is a uniquely personal experience, something I wouldn't wish upon my worst enemy only if he or she had cancer.