A Young Man Faces Testicular Cancer
Why it's so serious.
That next Monday -- just after moving into our new house -- I went in for
surgery. I was home that afternoon, with a huge bandage on my crotch and a
gigantic ice pack in my pants. The procedure, called an orchiectomy, involves
removing the testicle through an incision in the groin. A week later the biopsy
report came back: "Nonseminomatous mixed germ-cell tumor primarily
consisting of embryonal carcinoma."
In other words: Cancer.
Luckily, the report said the cancer hadn't spread to my lymph nodes or
bloodstream. Even so, I was faced with a tough decision. I could watch and wait
to see if the cancer was truly cured. Or I could undergo what's called a
retroperitoneal lymph node dissection, or RPLND. In short, a surgeon opens you
up from below the navel to the middle of your chest, lifts your internal organs
out of the way, and removes all the lymph nodes that could be cancerous if the
tumor has spread.
The prospect terrified me. But so did the idea of doing nothing.
Surfing for Survival
I got on the Internet, looking for help and information. I found plenty of
it, along with moral support. I also found out about Indiana University, known
for its expertise in treating testicular cancer. I made an appointment, and a
week later my wife and I hit the road.
I've since learned that testicular cancer is often misdiagnosed. The problem
-- as I was about to learn firsthand -- is that because it's so rare, most
doctors don't see it all that often. The ones back home had told me the cancer
hadn't spread. But when the same slides were reviewed at Indiana University,
the report indicated that, in fact, it had. I had learned one important lesson:
Always get a second opinion. Always.
With this latest round of bad news, I decided to have the dreaded RPLND. I
wanted to kill this beast while I had the upper hand.
At the age of 23, I never thought I'd have to make my peace with God. But on
the morning of the surgery, I did. Saying goodbye to my wife before entering
the operating room was hard enough. But one of the most difficult moments was
when I saw my dad for the first time after surgery. He looked shaken, and as he
took my hand, he asked in a low voice how I was doing. I gripped his hand as
hard as I could and told him not to worry.