"Testicular Cancer Wasn't That Bad?"

March 2011, sick as a dog after my first round of chemotherapy. Look, I still had eyebrows too!

March 2011, sick as a dog after my first round of chemotherapy. Look, I still had eyebrows too!


I'm amused that the ink has hardly dried on my last blog titled "There Is No Easy Cancer," only to now see an article over at GQ titled, "I Had Testicular Cancer and It Wasn't That Bad." Oh my...

I applaud Jason Kessler, who wrote the story, for being open about his cancer experience, and that his treatments including the orchiectomy and BEPx3 chemotherapy weren't overly rough on him. It's actually encouraging for people to know that yes, you can and will get through this, except that the "end" of his story is getting a clear CT scan a month after his chemotherapy had ended. One of the biggest lessons that I've learned in nearly five years of having survived a Stage II testicular cancer very similar to Mr. Kessler's, is that the end of our cancer fights are really just the beginning of our journeys. As I look back on these five years, it's so clear that fighting my cancer was the easy part - everything that came after was so much harder.

Cancer survivorship is a rude awakening for so many of us. As I wrote in "Cancer Survivorship - The Fight After the Fight," there were so many new things that I had to deal with for the first time after cancer, that I was simply unprepared to even know how to handle. I developed secondary health and severe pain issues from the harsh treatments my body had to endure. There was so much anxiety about countless follow-up scans, I've suffered from depression and post-traumatic stress, issues with testosterone levels that were swinging back and forth, terrible muscle fatigue issues, and on and on. I too had almost thought that maybe what I went through wasn't so bad at one point a year after my cancer fight, but I unknowingly had kept all of my fears and emotions about everything bottled up inside of me. It wasn't until nearly two years later that the dam had burst, and all of this finally started processing. And when it did, it hit me like a load of bricks

All of the uncertainty, and my life constantly being up in the air every other month with the latest round of scans and blood work, broke me as a person. I couldn't live like that anymore, and had to learn how to live my life all over again. This doesn't happen overnight. It's only now that I'm about to reach nearly five years out since cancer entered my life, that I finally feel like my life really has moved on after cancer. For many, cancer survivorship isn't an easy ride even with a so-called "easy" cancer like testicular cancer. There is no easy cancer.

A word of caution is also needed about medical marijuana usage, as marijuana use can also elevate the HCG testicular cancer marker in men. I've run across a few people over the years in total freak out mode that their HCG levels came back elevated on surveillance blood work. They had been in tears thinking their cancers had returned, unaware of the possibility of this marker being elevated due to marijuana usage. It's not a good situation to be in at all. I'm actually a proponent of legalized and/or medical use for marijuana. There's something to be said about medical marijuana usage and its ability to relieve certain side-effects both during and after fighting cancer, but one needs to be aware of this possibility in the context of a discussion about testicular cancer! 

There's also no guarantee that one will feel any pain if they have testicular cancer, either. You're not necessarily just going to know! You're lucky if you do, as both I and Mr. Kessler were, because it means you can catch it at an earlier stage. Testicular cancer can be a silent killer, overrunning your entire body with no symptoms at all for months, until you suddenly find yourself in the ER one day coughing up blood, or with other bizarre symptoms due to organs starting to shut down! They don't even wait to do the orchiectomy or pathology in many of these cases. They start you on chemotherapy that day, because you might not have another day left! Plenty of advanced stage testicular cancer patients never had any pain to clue them off, and this is why awareness of the disease, and testicular self-exams are so important. Pain in a testicle isn't a sure thing, but you might be able to detect an abnormal lump on your own. There are also testicular cancer cases that are extragonadal, and don't even start in the testicles at all. It's not nearly as simple as Mr. Kessler made things out to be. 

I genuinely pray that Mr. Kessler has a smooth and easy ride through his survivorship years. God bless him if he does, but he would be in a slim and incredibly fortunate minority. I know quite a few testicular cancer survivors, and so many of us are blindsided by the challenges we face in our lives after cancer. I asked a group of survivor friends for feedback on this article, and very few thought that Kessler's experience was representative of what a typical testicular cancer patient goes through, and a few thought that he was in denial about some things. One caregiver friend whose son had testicular cancer, was in tears about how dismissive the article felt in the face of what she, her son, and other friends had all been through fighting this disease. 

Testicular cancer continues to be a real disease that kills real people every single day. Many have lost loved ones, husbands, fathers, and sons. For these people, seeing an article like this around the holidays while trying to get on without, is painful to say the least. For the majority of us that do survive, the high cure rates tend to be of little comfort when you're the one in the hot seat with strange pains in your body, and you're worried to death about your next set of surveillance scans. The challenges of life after cancer are not to be underestimated. Should Mr. Kessler find himself in a situation after cancer that he's completely unprepared to handle, he should know that there's a sizable community of fellow young adult cancer survivors waiting in the wings to support him through whatever he needs.