I was diagnosed with testicular cancer at the age of 33 and thought my life was over, but today I’m an 8 year survivor of the disease, and at the age of 41 I’m not even a young adult anymore. Times change, perspectives change, we all grow and evolve not just as cancer survivors but in life itself. At this point I just don’t give a (bleep) about cancer anymore. Here’s why.
Because I’m Not Afraid of My Body
It was only fitting that I spent my 8 year cancerversary back on February 14th with disconcerting pains in my healthy remaining left testicle, but it didn’t faze me. There’s only so many times that you can freak out about “strange pains” in your body until they’re no longer strange at all, and don’t freak you out. As a big and tall guy with a history of bilateral inguinal hernias, and a body that has attempted on more than one occasion to tear itself in half, “strange pains” in this area of my body are a regular part of my life. Only one time out of literally thousands has it ever meant cancer. In my early years after cancer, strange pains like these had me huddling in that corner in tears, but I’m long past that and am just not afraid of my body any more.
Because Life Moves On After Cancer
The truth is, life just plain moves on after cancer, for better and for worse, in good ways and in bad, and whether you’re ready or not. The painful reality for many young adult cancer survivors is that there’s far more in life that we’re going to have to face, some of which might be just as shocking, painful, unfair, or as horrifying or heartbreaking as our cancer fights had been. Just because you had cancer doesn't meant that life, and its associated drama and messiness, stops happening. Nobody else is really going to care that we had cancer earlier in our lives, nor try to make things easier or roll out the red carpets for us. Not that I was expecting that, but I wasn’t expecting something closer to the opposite either. It’s almost as though the powers that be in the Universe saw how well my wife and I handled cancer together, and then said “hold my beer” while doubling down on us. There are so many things in our lives since my cancer fight that have been unbelievable, unconscionable, and completely unthinkable, and we’ve had to rise to all of them. My life has moved on completely from cancer at this point because I’ve had no other choice but to, with so much else to face in our lives.
The flip side of tremendous challenges elsewhere has been the potential for tremendous growth. It’s been another challenge in and of itself to stay on positive paths in the midst of so much, and never for a minute has it been an easy ride. Learn to let go and disconnect, and to forgive and forget. Your past isn’t happening right now, so don’t let it spoil your future, and never stop living your lives.
Because I’ve Always Put my Family First
I do work my tail off at my paying job, but I always take all of my “earned” vacation, and never let much if any of it go to waste. Work hard, play harder. As a young adult cancer survivor, I felt for many years that I would never make it to 40, and that I might not have much of a future. Nothing was certain for me - I wanted to enjoy every minute of time with my family that I could, and that’s what mattered most to me. If that means I won’t be considered a “top performer” at my company or will miss out on some promotions because other people are slaving away, working even harder and hardly taking any of their vacation, so be it. I’d much rather have the memories of so many fun times and grand adventures with my family than be the next level or two up in my career.
I do regret that I’m no longer doing the nonprofit work that I used to do, but that too had evolved into another full-time job on top of a very demanding full-time job and a busy family life, and just wasn’t sustainable anymore. My wife felt abandoned and like she didn’t have a husband anymore, and my children were at the age where they really needed my presence in their own lives, and not in others. I would have found a way to continue what I was doing in the nonprofit world on a much more time limited basis, but suddenly finding myself in the crosshairs of over-sized egos and greed, while being subjected to a barrage of insults and completely false and disparaging comments by the very organization that I had made so many sacrifices of my and my family’s time for was one of the greatest shocks of my life. To be so insulted and falsely accused after all I had done and the huge sacrifices I had made, was a moral red line that never should have been crossed. Anyone with even an ounce of self-respect would have immediately walked away, and that’s exactly what I did.
My family has been supportive of everything I’ve ever done, but enough was enough and the appropriate decisions were made. It’s a shame how easy of a decision it was, but we’ve been through far too much to ever tolerate anyone else’s (bleep). Now my time is spent exactly where it should be, entirely dedicated to my family. My family will always come first, and you’ll never have any regrets when that’s your priority.
Because I’ve Lived a Good Life
Truthfully, I really don’t have too much to complain about. I’ve been blessed with the love of a beautiful woman and soulmate in my life for over half of my life. We’ve been together for 23 of our 41 years, which is amazing. We have two awesome kids and an equally awesome dog, and stable jobs that have afforded us a comfortable lifestyle that has allowed us to enjoy the world we live in.
Yes, I had cancer earlier in my life, and there are numerous other aspects of our lives that have been completely (bleeped) up beyond all recognition, but things could always be so much worse. We could be living in Venezuela, where people have nothing to lose risking their lives by rioting in the streets, because their country has been mismanaged into complete collapse and they’re hungry. We could be living in one of the many areas of the world torn by war, terrorism, or totalitarian regimes where people literally have nothing, or have lost everything. Or we could be characters in Game of Thrones. Or maybe I might not have ever found any of what I have. Or I could have died of my cancer.
I’m not going to trivialize the other challenges we’ve had in our lives as “first world problems” because they’re not, and because some of them have been even more horrifying and heartbreaking to deal with than my cancer fight ever was. I’ve come to accept that it’s just life, that it was never supposed to be fair or make sense, and we’ve managed to live a good one with so many great times and grand adventures despite what life has put us through, and we’re proud of that.
We’re very blessed and fortunate despite all that we’ve been through.
Because I’m Proud of What I’ve Achieved
You don’t need to be a millionaire, have a verified social media account, or have a New York Times best selling book to have made a difference in the world. Young adult cancer and especially testicular cancer is a relatively rare thing, and differences are made on a smaller scale. I’m proud of all of the writing that I’ve done and the difference it’s made for thousands if not millions across the world that have found it in various places, and how its helped them find their ways through their own cancer and life journeys. To serve as a young adult cancer mentor and guide for so many others has been a great honor and purpose to have served.
I’m proud of the Testicular Cancer Summit that I co-founded with Ron Bye, that helped to bring so many survivors, advocates, and experts from across the testicular cancer world together under one roof for the very first time in a way that had never been done before. What an honor to introduce Dr Einhorn at this first Summit, to an audience that for the most part wouldn’t be alive were it not for his work. What an honor to meet so many other testicular cancer advocates from across the country and across the world, and to meet so many people face to face whose lives I’d had a chance to impact in a positive way. What great moments, so many of which all came together at the first Testicular Cancer Summit.
It’s the grandest understatement to state that it was quite disappointing to see the Testicular Cancer Summit become a victim of its own success in the aftermath, and that it couldn’t continue on as originally envisioned by Ron Bye and myself as an event for the entire testicular cancer community. No good deed goes unpunished - there were just as many endings at the Summit as there were beginnings. That’s a sad story for another day, but the Summit itself was amazing, and those moments, memories, and accomplishments will live on forever and will always be cherished.
Because I Accept the Inevitable, and That Anything Can Happen at Any Time
I accept that eventually we’re all going to die of something, and it could be sooner or it could be later, we just never know. My cancer could come back, or I might get another cancer, or develop some disease or health condition, and I accept that. I just got a really nasty spider bite that was so bad I almost had to go to the ER for it, but what if it was fatal and I had died on the spot? I fly a lot, and don’t think I never think of the possibilities there, either. You just never know what’s going to happen, but there’s nothing that wakes you up more to life’s uncertainties than facing a health crisis very early in your life. I live my best life because I know and accept that nothing is a given, and that anything can change tomorrow.
The same unfortunately applies to anyone in your life that you love and care about, extending far beyond just the potential for health issues. Family members, friends, and people that you have dedicated years of your life to and gone to ends of the Earth to support, can suddenly turn on you in an instant and become your enemy tomorrow, for no reason at all. If you have people in your life that you genuinely love and care about today, enjoy their presence today, because it can all change in the next. At this point in my life there’s just not that much that surprises me anymore. It should be of no surprise to anybody that knows us well just how much we’ve come to love our dog, after some of the truly rotten and disgusting human beings we’ve had in our lives.
The bottom line is that great moments in our lives and with others never go unnoticed or unappreciated, because everything in life is subject to change without notice.
Because I Know My Place
As I look back on really the past 10 years of our lives, I’ve long since given up on ever being able to understand of even half of what we’ve been through, far beyond just cancer. It’s been tough enough to find peace with this history of cancer in my life, and there’s been so many other ups and downs, twists and turns, and tragedies and triumphs along the way. I don’t think life is supposed to make any sense, but I know my place and have reset my expectations.
“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson
Life isn’t like the movies.
Often times the biggest difference we make is through a terrible tragedy, and not a great triumph. That euphoric feeling of victory like in the movies is often going to elude us, but it doesn’t mean that no difference was made. Life isn’t like the movies. We also can’t solve other people’s problems for them, plenty of which are experts at creating their own. All too often in our own lives, the best possible way to resolve a problem with someone is to simply walk away, when there will never be a common ground or understanding. True victories in this world are rare. The rest is about survival, making a difference, serving a purpose, and finding ways to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, and to have it make a difference that you’ve lived and lived well. That’s all you truly need to claim a victory, and I have plenty to look back upon there.
I’ve said many times that I’ll never make up some (bleep) about how “I’m glad I got cancer”, but in a strange twist, cancer gave me a way to serve that higher purpose and to make that difference through my own personal tragedies, and for that I’m grateful.
Because My Worst Fears About Cancer Will Never Be Realized
My worst fears when I was diagnosed with cancer weren’t about dying. It was about never having truly “lived”, it was about never having had an opportunity to make a difference in the world, and my absolute worst fear, my children growing up without ever having truly known their father. My children were just 2 and 4 when I was fighting cancer, but now they’re 10 and 12 and getting so big. What a blessing to have been there for them all these years. No matter what happens in the future, no one will ever be able to say that I haven’t lived a good life, that I haven’t achieved anything or made any sort of difference in the world, and that my children never had a chance to know their father.
My worst fears about cancer will never be realized, and that’s why I don’t give a bleep about cancer anymore.
Young adult cancer survivors live their lives on a different time scale than everyone else. These past 8 years since my cancer diagnosis have been like a time warp that have flown by so quickly. They’ve been filled with numerous other challenges, but we’ve overcome them all together, and have lived great lives while doing it. I’ve come such a long way and have evolved so much.
As cancer survivors, various flavors of fears, uncertainties, and doubts about our lives and our futures are always going to persist. There’s never going to be a euphoric moment of victory, but managing to outlive the worst of my fears after cancer is a great privilege and about as good as it gets. I pray I’ll be around for many more years and to see many more milestones, but I know that my worst fears about cancer will never be realized, and that’s why I don’t give a bleep about cancer anymore.