I was diagnosed with Stage IIB Testicular Cancer (mostly embryonal carcinoma) in February of 2011, on Valentine's Day no less, and went through 4 rounds of EP chemo followed by the RPLND surgery by Dr. Joel Sheinfeld at MSKCC on June 22nd, 2011. After 5 brutal months of fighting cancer 6 years ago, as much as I wanted to believe that life would just resume and get back to normal, little did I know just how different and challenging life after cancer would be after cancer.
It's a surreal feeling looking back on these past 6 years of cancer survivorship, and all of the ways in which it’s affected my life. Chemotherapy drugs are extremely toxic and can have numerous long-term and permanent side-effects that can take awhile to understand and adjust to. The RPLND surgery itself is a brutal affair with its own set of risks, including the potential for the loss of fertility. Terrible memories from our cancer fights can haunt us and keep us awake at night, recurrence scares are absolutely terrifying, and then there's the stress of follow-up surveillance appointments and "scanxiety", and worrying if our cancers will come back or not, all while our hormones (testosterone levels) can be flying out of control. At a time when we're trying to get back to life and get back to normal, we're continually dragged back to this terrible world in one way or another when we just want to be free of it all. There's so much potential for mental health related issues such as depression, and even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I'm sad to say that I can speak to all of these issues and more, as I've been through all of them personally in my own cancer and survivorship journey. Cancer survivorship is an incredibly challenging time of getting accustomed to a whole new life and world. For me, it required a full reset and reboot of my life, and an entirely new approach to life itself that took years to evolve into, just to feel safe and secure in my own skin again.
Despite all the challenges I've faced both while fighting cancer and during survivorship, it is truly a privilege just to be living and to have had these challenges at all in the face of how many people testicular cancer used to kill. A new life filled with many unforeseen challenges compared with no life at all is an obvious one, but it doesn't mean these challenges haven't been significant and difficult to overcome. Part of the challenge of survivorship, and for the record numbers of people alive today with histories of cancer in their lives, is that there simply hasn’t been an adequate nor a broad understanding of the needs of cancer survivors either in or out of the medical community. At the end of Testicular Cancer Awareness Month in April 2014, I published quite a lengthy primer on my cancer survivorship journey here detailing just what it took to pull me through these past few years of survivorship.
There’s such a strong need right now in the medical and health communities for perspectives and voices from cancer survivors, such that our needs can be better served in the future. What kind of support do we need? What helps us and what hurts us? What keeps us awake at night, and what helps us sleep better? What’s meaningful and what can make the difference for us? What affects our quality of life, and in what ways could that be improved? There's so much to talk about and yet to be written when it comes to cancer survivorship.
Steve Pake is 39 years old and is happily married to his wife Debbie of 12 years. They reside in Rockville, Maryland and have two children together aged 10 and 8. Steve is an Electrical Engineer by day and holds a Masters Degree in Electrical Engineering from Johns Hopkins University, and is also a Penn State alumni. Steve also serves as a Director at the Testicular Cancer Awareness Foundation, where he's been a blogger since 2014. Steve's blogs also appear at IHadCancer.com, Cure Today, and at the Cancer Knowledge Network, and he's been interviewed in national news media about cancer survivorship issues, such as post-traumatic stress after cancer.