29 (AT THE TIME)
My friend’s and I went away for the May long weekend, As most people do on a long weekend, we enjoyed some drinks, food and most importantly, laughs and good times. The morning we were packing up, I didn’t feel so well. I chalked it up to eating junk-food and not getting a lot of sleep the previous three days. The weird feeling I had in my abdomen went away and didn’t think much of it. A couple of weeks later, I am at my cousins wedding in sunny San Diego. My mom and I flew down for the weekend to be with friends and family. I noticed on our flight home that my abdomen was distended. Again, I didn’t think much of it and the weird feeling I had went away after a couple days.
Fast forward to July 10th 2010. I woke up early, as I was working in Toronto at the time. Alex, my partner, and I used to catch the GO train from Milton – so we had some very early mornings to get to work for 9am. Our drive to Milton was uncomfortable. I had a dull pain in my abdomen – unlike anything I had every felt. The train ride was even worse. I used to fall asleep on the train and nap for the hour ride. This day however, I was in near tears.
I visited a doctor’s office when I got to Toronto; they weren’t sure what was going on, but booked a CT scan for the next day. I remember lying down on a park bench with tears streaming down my face. I was in pain and I didn’t know what to do. I made my way back to work, where Alex and I decided to go home right away and go to the hospital. After a number of tests, and a couple of doctors examining me, it was determined that my appendix would need to be removed. I was relieved that the pain would soon go away. When I went into the OR for my surgery, the last thing I remember is the doctors telling me to count backwards from 10. I don’t think I even said the number and I was out!
I woke up the next morning and immediately knew that I was not at Grand River hospital in Kitchener, Ontario anymore. The nurse asked me how I knew, and I told her it was too pretty to be Grand River! I was right; I wasn’t at Grand River as I was airlifted to University Hospital in London, Ontario. My first, and only time in a helicopter and I don’t even remember it.
The doctor’s told me they had removed a football sized tumor from my abdomen. Pathology tests would later determine that it was a cancerous tumor that was removed. When I say that my story technically started 40 years ago, when I was born, it’s because I had an undescended testicle. My parents, who were still new to Canada in 1980, with limited English, may not have fully understood what that meant. Growing up, I never had any issues and I was always healthy and rarely got a cold; so asking a doctor about an undescended testicle was never top of mind.
I am sure that I can speak for anyone diagnosed; you never forget the feeling of pure disbelief and shock when you are told you have cancer. Despite everyone around me telling me that I was holding myself well – it was like an out-of-body experience, watching your life unfold on a reality TV show.
After the diagnosis, things moved quickly. I met with an Oncologist and began three rounds of chemo on August 30th, 2010. I didn’t really have time to process and think and think and over-think the things that were happening to me – which in all honesty was a blessing in disguise, as I only had to concentrate on what the team of doctors and nurses were telling me and nothing else. My chemo regime caused my hair to fall out. I still remember being in the shower one morning and watching as clumps of hair started to fall from my body and go down the drain. This was the first time that it HIT me; and I broke down. But – that didn’t last long. I realized very quickly that I have a huge support group of family and friends around me. I realized that I have no reason to hide and nothing to be ashamed of.
Studies tell us that testicular cancer is the most common cancer among young men, and it is also one of the most curable cancers if caught early. I’ve completed a 10-year surveillance plan with no sign of cancer.
Looking back on all that I have gone through all I can say is that it really is amazing how much can happen in less than a year. It feels like a lifetime ago – and really 11 years is a long time. Yet, there are still some days that it feels like just yesterday.
We know that cancer isn’t rainbows and butterflies and once you enter a dark mindset it can be difficult to escape from. But most of us have that one message of hope and inspiration that helps bring perspective and optimism to a situation. For me that message is; “Never be ashamed of a scar, it simply means you were stronger than whatever tried to hurt you”.