Laurence Nault's TC Story

October 1999

My name is Laurence Nault. I am 40 years old and live in Spruce Grove, Alberta, Canada. I have two great children who have been through a lot. I am a Nonseminoma Cancer survivor, so far. But that is not the beginning of the story.

I, like a lot of men out there, have a lot to be thankful for (or so I thought, and some times still do).

I have worked in construction for 20 years and it has been good to me. Back in April 1996 my wife of 17 years came to me after some Doctor appointments to tell me that she had Cancer. She had Squamous Cell Cancer in the neck, of which at the time scared the hell out of us. We quickly found out that there was every reason to be scared. My wife of seventeen years died 14 months later after going through 31 treatments of radiation and some surgery.

During the time of her illness we had a lot of family support which would continue on during a time of my life that I refer to as a haze.

Being in construction (as a site Superintendent) means some times you have to go out of town to continue working, this happened at the time when my wife needed me the most. With having to pay bills and prescription expenses, sometimes $1,500 a month. To keep living we had to make a choice. Do I take the job out of town or sell the house? We decided (I stress the "we" part) that I should take the job. With both our families and close friends close at hand there would be lots of support, and I would be home every weekend. This was in September 1996.

It was very, very difficult for both of us but we had lots of support, from the company I worked for as well. Things progressed along until Christmas, and everything started looking good. I came home for all the things I needed to for my wife, and she appeared to be on the road to recovery. Christmas was great, I was home for just over two weeks.

I went back up to the job site just before New Years 1997 things were looking up, little did I know how far down things were going to get.

During the month of January while I was showering I noticed a hard mass on my right testicle, and decided to watch it and note if it went away. I had a lot of things on my mind and wasn't worried about me. I had a job to do and a wife who was recovering.

I came home for a weekend at the beginning of February and noticed that there was a lump growing again on the side of my wife's neck. I knew then that it was a matter of time, and there was nothing more they could do for her. We talked late into the night about her and what was happening. I never brought up my fears about me at this time. As March approached things were getting worse for my wife. Things were not going well for me either, the mass or lump I noticed on my testicle was not going away. I could grab my testicle and squeeze as hard as I wanted to and there was no pain.

Right at the end of February things were getting worse for my wife. My boss, at the time, phoned me at the site and told me it was time to come home. This was a relief for Dawn and I, we did not want to make that decision, we felt we would be giving up. I came home to take care of my wife. The support from family friends and work was tremendous.

I came home the beginning of March 1997 to take care of Dawn, and the things I went through only helped me to prepare for what I was to go through.

I figured by the end of March I better go see my Doctor, he sent me to see an Urologist, first week of April. This Urologist just happen to be the same Doctor my dad had seen to remove a kidney that had Cancer in it in 1994. I was sent for blood tests and went back to see him two weeks later. He read the test results and sent me directly for an ultrasound. Now you have to remember I am a 37 year old man at this time, and the lady doing the ultrasound on my testicle is young and good looking, this was one of the hardest (no pun intended) things to do. The results came back that there was a problem. I had a tumor in or on my right testicle. The doctor told me it had to be removed. I went home wondering where the justice was in life. First my wife now me. What would happen to my kids. I had realized when I first found the lump that there was a problem, but I had put it off for Dawn and the kids. Now it was time to worry about me. My Doctors knew what I was going through and were there for me.

Dawn was getting worse fast, and I had told her about me before I first went to see my Doctor. The middle of May she ended up in the hospital and we knew she was not going to be coming out. The day she went in was the day we decided to tell our parents about me. To this day I remember the look on their faces when I told them about me. Dawn's parents almost fainted and started to cry, my mom started crying and my dad, who never had a problem hiding his emotions in the past, but he looked like he was ready to destroy the world. Our parents were there for us through it all, and my parents most of all were there above all.

Dawn was in the hospital still when I went for my first surgery to remove the testicle, my mom and dad took me in to the hospital for it, day surgery. While I was waiting to go in for the surgery I was talking to mom and dad and mentioned how when I was four years old I had gone in for a hernia operation. My mom informed me at that time that it was for an undescended testicle. I told this to the Urologist when I saw him just before my surgery. He said that explained a lot, for I had a 70% chance of getting Cancer because of it. [Editor's Note: This is not true. A man with undescended testicles may have a 20-44% higher than normal chance of getting testicular cancer, but he does not have a 70% chance of getting TC!] After I had recovered from the surgery my dad picked me up, I made him take me to see Dawn at the other hospital too let her know I was all right.

I went to the Oncologist two weeks later to find out the results. There was both a Seminoma and a Nonseminoma tumor in the testicle. They did some blood tests and a CT scan, and they found some more tumors. I would have to do chemotherapy. I asked him at that time why it would have happened. I was told that because of the undescended testicle I had a 70% chance of getting it. I was told that I should have got it in my late twenties, but possibly because of the stress I was going through with Dawn my body rebelled.

Now came one of the hardest things I have had to do in my life. Tell my kids. There was a lot of support with Dawn, I asked one of the Social Workers if she would help me tell the kids. My daughter was 8 and my son was 5 at the time. When I told them I could see the fear in their eyes, and I knew that I had to pull through for them. The Social Worker let me tell them, and was there to help with any questions I may not be able to answer.

I started my treatments on June 23, 1997, with more blood tests, a chest x-ray, and a lung test. I was told that one of the chemicals they were to use could affect my lungs, another could affect my kidney's and I would loose my hair, but that the chances of recovery were 90% or better. My chemo regiment started on Tuesday and ran around the clock until Friday morning. I was allowed to go home every night, and I went to see Dawn when I got out. My dad would pick me up and take me to see her every day. I felt good through that first week. Dawn died June 29, 1997, the hardest thing again was telling the kids that mom had died, we laid her to rest on July 3rd.

I was feeling good physically, but for obvious reasons emotionally I was a wreck. Then it happened, about a week and a half after my first treatment my mustache started falling out, I knew then that I would shave my head before the hair started falling out. Some people in the community thought I did it for Dawn.

I progressively got more ill as the treatments continued, four full regiments one every three weeks. It got to the point where I would walk in, set my bag down on the bed I would be in, and then walk to the washroom and puke my guts out. Have you ever seen what happens to the wax on the floor when they spill some of these chemicals on it. They are great for removing it real well. My parents and friends were there to help me through it all. I still thank god for them.

I finished my treatments the last week of August. I went back for tests a month later and some how I knew I wasn't done yet. For the first time through all of this I felt I needed some one there with me to get the results. I took my best friend with me, and sure enough although the blood markers were back to normal and the tumors had shrunk they were still there and one was still large enough to be worried about. It would have to come out.

I went in for surgery in late October. I was in the hospital for a week. They had to go in from the front of my abdomen to get at the tumor for it was situated against the backbone, the Urologist did the surgery. I now support a 14" scar that starts at my chest and stops 4" below my belly button. The tumor they removed was 7" long, 3" wide, and 1½" thick, and was no longer a living object.

It has been just over two years now and everything is going well. There were a couple of side effects from all of this. Because of the chemo the bottom of my feet and the ends of my fingers felt like pins and needles (you know the feeling you get when your leg falls asleep), this lasted about three months. Also because of the way they had to do the surgery, when removing and replacing all of my innards they damaged the nerve which controls the direction in which the sperm travels when ejaculation happens. They call this, I believe, retrograde ejaculation. The sperm goes to the bladder rather then out the end of the penis. The chances of having more children the normal way are slim and nil. That's okay with me; I have two great kids.

My life is getting back to normal, and my children are doing well. I have even started dating again.

The people at the Cross-Cancer Institute in Edmonton were and still are fantastic people. The nurses in the Day Care Unit (where they give you the treatments) are unbelievable caring people. Every time I go in for a check-up I go down to see them and give them a hug. I feel it is the least I can do for people who I'm sure don't get to see many people walk away and recover.

My friends and family have been a great support through all of this, and when I would start to get a bit down one of them would always say something to make me laugh and get on with things. They say laughter is the best medicine. My favorite has always been when they would bug me about walking in circles because I am off balance with the one testicle having been removed. I just laugh and tell them I'm still better with one then they are with two.

This past year was a rough one for a different reason. We found out in May that my mom had Ovarian Cancer. She has done all of her chemo and surgery and is well on the road to recovery. We all hope that she will do as well as I have.

Some people have asked me; Would it have been better if I had gone as soon as I knew there was something wrong? To that I can only say yes, the earlier it is caught the better. Would it have made a difference in the recovery rate? It is hard to say some men have waited to the point where it has progressed to their brains, and have still made a full recovery. The recovery rate is still 90% or better, unlike a number of other Cancers.

In the last two years I have gone into the Terry Fox Run. In 1998 I was the run representative for Spruce Grove, and raised $750 by myself. This year I raised $800 myself, I think that it is only a small portion of pay back for the treatments I received.

Keep smiling.
Laurence Nault

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