34 (AT THE TIME)
In late April of 2013, I was on a business trip in Orlando and discovered a very small lump on my left testicle while in the shower. It didn’t hurt, but it definitely freaked me out. I spent the rest of the evening stressing over everything that it could be, and sadly, I just convinced myself that it wasn’t a big deal and slept it off. That denial and ignorance would last another 5 months before I was forced to face reality. Later that fall, during a choreography job, I collapsed from excruciating pain in my groin and was quickly rushed to the ER. It’s terrible that this moment was my wake-up call rather than the discovery of the lump back in April, but nonetheless, I realized that I could not ignore the situation any longer.
On October 4th, I visited my physician who, after a very brief observation, told me I was heading down the street immediately to the urology clinic. My head was spinning at this point. That same day, the urologist told me that he speculated what the prognosis would likely be, but regardless, a surgery to remove the entire left testicle was needed. On October 14th, I underwent surgery to remove the testicle and waited anxiously for the test results to come back. Pathology reports came back a few days later, and the tumor was discovered to be cancerous. A nonseminomatous mixed germ cell malignant tumor, to be exact. The doctor said that a CT scan and chest x-ray were the next steps to be sure nothing had spread.
In November, I was blessed with great news that the cancer had not spread to my lymph nodes or other organs, and that a plan to meet with an oncologist to discuss an observation period was the next step. On December 11th, I met with the oncologist, and he stated that at this juncture in my life, he felt that monitoring me for the next year was the best route to take. This would mean blood work every 1-2 months, and CT scans every 3 months. My first combination of tests would take place on January 8th of that next year.
I did my best to celebrate the holidays, but it felt like January 8, 2014 came on very fast. After my initial set of tests, I returned in the afternoon for my oncologist to review my charts. He stated that the CT scan came back with no concerns, however, my blood came back with AFP numbers that were slightly elevated once again, and it was a concern after these numbers had rapidly decreased since my surgery date. He informed me that numbers can always come back with errors, and a follow-up in 2 weeks was necessary to confirm or refute the readings. On January 22nd, after a blood draw early in the morning and some agonizing hours of waiting, my oncologist entered the exam room and let me know that my AFP levels were not only confirmed in the higher range, but that they had doubled in just the last 2 weeks.
On February 3, 2014, I started the first of 3 cycles of BEP chemotherapy treatment. The level of support that I had from family and friends, both near and far are still to this day, beyond words. From my background in the cheer and dance industry, I was always trained to put on a smile and present my best self to the “crowd”. Hell, I coached that philosophy until I was blue in the face. So, that’s what I did…I posted pictures of me in the infusion suite with a huge smile on my face to reassure my supporters that everything was going to be just fine. Even though I was determined to get through this journey on top, it wasn’t until a dear friend and fellow fighter who was going through her battle with ovarian cancer told me, “hey, it’s okay to have your bad days and let others know about them too. It’s your new normal right now, and you don’t always have to smile through it.”
That evening, I fully embraced what I was going through, good AND bad, and ironically it was also the first night that my hair started to fall out from the chemo. I was committed to being transparent and real about the journey from then on out, in hopes that others that are going through it don’t have to feel anything less than whatever they are feeling at that moment in time. Up, down, high or low, you have support through all of it.
In May of this year, 2021, I will officially celebrate 7 years of being in remission. I’m not going to lie; these last 7 years have been filled with so much joy, but also, so much pain and heartache as well. Financial stress, survivor’s guilt, and everlasting side effects are all real things that can come from a journey with cancer and treatment. I state that openly and honestly as a nod to my commitment to my now-angel-flying-high friend, to recognize and embrace the bad days as well as the good ones. Something that is unwavering, however, is the love and support of your community of prayer warriors and fellow fighters. I’m blessed to be here still, and thank you all for letting me share my story. You are not in this alone!