A Painful Few Years After Cancer
Coming up on six years ago in May of 2011, I was about to start my last round of chemotherapy fighting testicular cancer. I'd still have another brutal surgery to get through after that, and I had no idea at the time just how afraid I was. When you're facing something like this and fighting for your life, this warrior mentality that we all have hiding inside of us takes over, and you just shut down emotionally in order to get through whatever it is that you need to get through. It wasn't until the end of the following year in late 2012 that it all finally started catching up with me. A friend that I had made died, another had reached the end and was heading towards hospice care soon, and I had a terrible cancer recurrence scare that put the fear of God in me. I feared that I was next, and it was only then that everything started processing.
I spent all of 2013 fighting inside, and trying to stay one step ahead of terrible PTSD related breakdowns. I just felt so threatened and like a marked man, my anxiety was out of control, and I withdrew from the world for awhile and fell into a deep depression. I couldn't believe that this was my life. Here I was nearly two years cancer free, but having to fight harder than I ever had in life before, for my own mind and dealing with PTSD after Cancer. Those that were a friend of mine that year, and were able to be by my side in any way, won a friend for life with me. I was lost, but I was found. I was falling into a deep abyss, but was caught and lifted up by angels in my life and some truly amazing souls, some of whom I'd never even met before but were right under my nose, and were brought into my life at the precise moment they were most needed. I've never hurt more in my life than I had in 2013, but had never felt more blessed all at the same time.
How Has Non-Profit Work Helped Me?
It was only after this year in 2014, three years after my cancer diagnosis and long after the 5-month long physical fight had ended, that I turned to non-profit advocacy work, and joined the Testicular Cancer Awareness Foundation as a volunteer blogger. I shopped around for the right organization for me, and had more than a few offers after I published my first major essay about young adult cancer survivorship. Some other groups wanted full ownership of whatever I wrote, and others had restrictive word limits, but I just felt the right vibe with Kim Jones and her organization, and I'm so grateful that she offered me her blog and audience without restrictions.
I felt compelled to share my story. One of the worst things about what I experienced in that year was feeling so alone, but I know that isn't true. Younger men especially have trouble opening up and admitting that they're hurting inside, a unique challenge of testicular cancer, yet we're all human beings, and regardless of age or gender or cancer type, we all feel so many of the same things inside when it comes to cancer. I knew I had a gift for writing and expression, and it's through the utilization of that gift that I've reached hundreds of thousands across the globe, and have helped so many others find their way through the pain that cancer can bring into our lives.
It's only very recently that I've come to understand what was driving me through these years. Even though I had regained control of my mind, I couldn't help but feel like my life was still going to be cut short somehow. Having cancer, especially as a young adult, can do this to you where you just feel cursed. It didn't just bring on an early mid-life crisis, as I had joked for years. It was really an "entire life crisis" where I just felt this panicked rush to accomplish and do things in all stages of my life all at once.
I wanted to make a difference in the world for the better, and wanted to make sure that my time was being spent meaningfully. With apologies to my many engineering world colleagues, I've always known that I was never going to truly make a difference or have a meaningful impact in the world twiddling with electronics. I needed to do something else, something so much more than this, and my non-profit work has been a life-purpose fulfilled. Looking back on a few years of just bleeding into my keyboard and seeing the difference that's made for others, has given me a very complete feeling. If cancer were to take me now, I know that I've used my time here wisely, and have accomplished meaningful things. It's been so hard to find peace in my life after having cancer as a young adult, but non-profit advocacy work has helped me to find that peace.
My Second Act and Life as a TCAF Director and Board Member
I'm proud to share the news of a huge expansion of my role at the Testicular Cancer Awareness Foundation in not just continuing to blog and share in my continuing journey, but on also becoming a Director and Board Member.
When it comes to cancer advocacy and support programs, there's a lot of great programs out there, but I haven't felt like there's any one single program designed specifically for the unique needs of the testicular cancer community, and so I wanted to change that. Nearly a year in the making, and entirely of my own creation, I've recently become the Director of the new Testicular Cancer Awareness Foundation Ambassadors program, which you can read more about here. This is less a program, and more of an ecosystem of what I've felt are all of the right elements to help people find the information and support that they need when facing cancer and the survivorship years after, while also giving people to put that same energy that I've felt to use through volunteering opportunities. Whether it's sharing some of your story, talking in schools or at events about testicular cancer, or organizing social events and activities for other testicular cancer survivors, it's all a part of the ecosystem of needing to tap into energy, and then having the opportunity to give it back. We're just getting the ball rolling, and this is going to be an amazing program that will really do some good in the world.
When Jordan Jones experienced an unconscionable late recurrence of his cancer in 2015, the Jones family had to take their eyes off of their organization and onto caring for Jordan full time. Both his late recurrence and death on June 8th, 2016 was a shock to many in the community, and the fact that the TCAF organization also suffered as a result during this time is neither fair nor right, for a family that has not just sacrificed as much as they have for furthering the cause of Testicular Cancer awareness, but who have also paid the ultimate price with the loss of their son and brother.
It's time to get TCAF on a positive trajectory again, and I'm proud and honored to have joined the TCAF Board of Directors to help make that happen. We have a great team in place of highly motivated individuals, and I look forward to helping not just get TCAF back on track, but on taking it to the next level.
Writer in Chief - StevePake.com
Director & Board Member - Testicular Cancer Awareness Foundation