I was 34, married with one daughter when I found out that I had Testicular Cancer. I am a somewhat healthy person, I played football and ran track in high school and have exercised on and off since then. I have a stocky build and realize that I will get overweight if I do not exercise so I try to run around 2 miles a day in the spring, summer and fall.
It all started in February 1994 when I started having this unusual back pain and as 1994 progressed the back pain gradually increased. Finally in December 1994, I found a large mass in my abdomen. I can think back now and remember that portion of my abdomen being firmer for the past several months but I chose to ignore it. As it turned out, the mass was pinching a nerve in my back causing the back pain.
I never had any pain in my testicle or any other symptoms except that I had a hard lump on my left testicle. I eventually found the lump, the night after my first CT scan, purely by accident when I was going to the bathroom. I had never heard of testicular cancer and had never heard or learned how to check myself.
The worst time was the waiting between finding the mass in my abdomen and having the CT scan and seeing the doctors. I would lay in bed at night and get very upset about dying, leaving my wife alone and not seeing my daughter grow up. I eventually had to convince myself that all this self pity would not get me anywhere and that I should just try to live a normal life until I found out what was going on.
I had my first CT scan on Monday, January 9, 1995. The CT scan showed a 12 cm (5 inch for those metrically impaired) mass in my abdomen that was pressing on just about everything inside me. The radiologist that read the CT scan diagnosed it as lymphoma but the CT scan did not cover the pelvis and the radiologist did not know about the lump in my testicle.
On Tuesday, January 10, I saw a general surgeon. His diagnoses was testicular cancer that had spread to a lymph node in my abdomen, but he wanted me to see a urologist. He immediately set up and appointment with my urologist, Dr. Marks, who confirmed the diagnoses and explained the routine; surgery to remove the bad testicle and radiation or chemotherapy to reduce the mass in the abdomen.
Wednesday, January 11, Dr. Marks did the "radical left orchiectomy", it was done in the hospital's one day surgery section. I was in at 8:00 am in the morning, operated on, recuperated and sent home by 4:00 pm, so there were no overnight stays in the hospital. He gave me Thursday off to recuperate more from the operation.
On Friday the 13th (of all days), I saw my oncologist Dr. Booth for the first time. He reviewed everything and recommended the chemotherapy treatment due to the size of the mass. I started my chemotherapy on Monday the 16th.
Everything moved so fast and I had been receiving nothing but good news; the cancer was testicular and was not lymphoma, the testicular cancer was seminoma, the best possible and that the cancer was extremely curable. I really did not have time to get down and upset about what was happening to me.
My treatment schedule:
4 Cycles, 3 weeks each. A cycle consisted of:
1 week - 5 days of chemo
1 week - 1 day of chemo
1 week - 1 day of chemo
The medicines were Cisplatin and Etoposide for 5 days the first week of each cycle and Bleomycin 1 day a week each week. The treatments were administered at an outpatient clinic, so again, there were no overnight stays in a hospital.
I was real excited during the first week of treatment when the back pain started to go away after only 3 days, but my excitement soon went away when the effects of the chemo started to get to me, I was constantly tired and weak. I feel that the worst part was losing the taste buds, everything I tried to eat tasted funny so I had a lot of trouble eating. I eventually found that food tasted better in the mornings and right after my treatments so these became my main meals. At night, I settled on a diet of rice or pasta with butter.
The one thing that I felt very strongly about was my hair. I knew that the treatments were helping me to get better and I was not going to sit around and watch myself fall apart (hair fall out) and get depressed. The first day that my hair really started to come out in clumps, I went and had my head shaved, I WAS NOT going to let my hair falling out get me down.
The effects of the treatments got worse as the cycles progressed. My white cell count went way down so I started getting shots to help get that up. Then my red cell counts went way down and I started getting shots for that as well. I was fortunate that the shots helped enough and that Dr. Booth was patient enough so that I did not need a transfusion.
By the end of the treatments, the mass in my abdomen was only about 1 cm. Dr. Booth felt that this was probably only scar tissue and that I would not need to have anymore surgery. He will track the progress with blood tests and occasional CT scans.
When the treatments were done in early April, I thought that I would immediately start getting better, boy was I wrong. I had severe numbness in my hands and feet, so bad at times that I could not walk, this was made worse when I would have a drink the night before (lesson 1: do not drink until the doctor says it is okay). I had this "weird thing" (doctor's description) where if I held my head up and then let it drop so that my chin touched my chest, I would feel the `nerves or muscles or something' move from the palms to my fingertips in my hands and the heels to the toes in my feet. Dr. Booth was familiar with this "weird thing named after some French doctor" and told me that it would go away with time (which it did).
Two Years Later:
It has been 2 years since I was operated on and I am doing real well. I am still seeing Dr. Booth every 3 months for follow-ups and tracking with the alpha feta protein and beta HCG blood tests. I am also getting CT scans about once a year just to be safe.
There are a few effects that are still with me, the worst of which is that I am still sterile. Both Dr. Marks and Dr. Booth are unsure if/when my sperm will ever come back. The numbness in my hands and most of my feet are completely gone, but I still have some numbness from the balls of my feet to my toes. I still have some ringing in my ears, I developed some dark areas on my arms and shoulders during chemo that have not gone away and the one toenail that got messed up during the chemo has not grown right yet.
Some of the things that I have not discussed but which were of great influence are more personal in nature; my wife (the greatest woman ever) and how she was affected, the effect on my daughter and my relationship with God...