NoVA and VA Pride head shares his personal battle with testicular cancer
Early this month, I made an emergency doctor’s appointment after noticing what I believed to be a growth.
There was a bit of a wait, even for sick visits, but I met with him three Fridays ago (1/8). He didn’t believe I had anything to worry about. I disagreed. We decided that an ultrasound was the best course of action. That Monday (1/11) I had the ultrasound after work.
For the 20 minutes or so that I was laying there being pretty much violated by an ultrasound tech lady with a strong Russian accent, I prayed more specifically than I had in a long time. Above all, I prayed that the doctors and techs be able to see everything clearly and comprehensively, and that there wouldn’t be a delay if anything needed to be done. After seeing the initial images, a doctor came in and examined me some more, then told me to wait in a private room with a phone while they got my doctor on the line.
My doctor wasn’t available, so after a while they let me go.
They aren’t supposed to say anything to you, but the ultrasound tech emphasized very strongly that I needed to make an appointment to discuss the results with my doctor – then reluctantly added “I’m concerned” before walking away.
I not-so-calmly called my doctor on my way to the car, and was put on hold. Before I was out of the lot his office called in on call-waiting to schedule an appointment for the the next morning (1/12).
There I was told I almost certainly had testicular cancer.
They had left a message with a urology practice, and I would need to schedule appointments with them, as well as a CT scan ASAP – but I was told that it would likely be several days before either could fit me into their schedules. On the way back to work, I called every imaging center on the list, and found one with an available slot the next day.
I sat back down at my desk, not an hour after I’d left, and sent an email to my managers explaining that I was going to have at least a couple doctor’s appointments in the near future, would have little or no notice, and had no idea what to expect from any of them. As soon as I hit send, my phone rang; the Urologist had an opening if I could leave right then.
I was back in the car before it had time to cool. The Urologist didn’t have to do a whole lot of examining to conclude that I should go ahead and get on the books for a surgery.
I had a meeting that evening with Capital Pride and Six Flags, and I welcomed the distraction, though my mind was racing the whole time. I got married in late October – and had told my husband what was going on to an extent – but would have to tell him, as well as my parents, that evening. My Mother-in-Law has survived cancer on more than one occasion, and I know that the experience was not easy – financially or emotionally – for his family in Venezuela. I didn’t want him to worry that our life together would be cut short by this. One of my Mother’s best friends died on New Year’s Eve, and she got the call while I was in the room, and we hugged harder and longer than we had in a long time. I knew she was going to cry. I had a live grenade of emotions in my hand, and it was going off whether I liked it or not. I felt guilty; like I was intentionally bringing the news home with me and bringing the situation to life. It’s hard to explain quite how that feels. I still feel occasionally.
That night, I picked up the Barium for the CT scan (which actually doesn’t taste bad if you get the Mocha, not that I hope any of you need to make that decision – but seriously, get the Mocha), went home, put it in the fridge, and called my mother into the living room to tell her. My father was picking my husband up from the metro, and when they came home we all had a family talk, which was filled with tears and hugs and love. The following day (1/13) the CT scan confirmed the high likelihood of cancer.
That Friday (1/15), the fine people at Reston Surgery Center performed an outpatient Radical Inguinal Orchiectomy to remove the affected testicle and spermatic cord through an incision in my abdomen. The pathology wouldn’t be available for days, so a follow-up was scheduled for Wednesday (1/20), at which it still wasn’t available, so I was sent home again to wait.
The 11 days since my surgery have largely sucked.
I had about a week of painful days; for a couple I couldn’t really move at all, then I slowly was able to walk, climb, etc for short stints. I’m now squarely in the month or so of recovery where, though easily-fatigued, I’m not in pain (so long as I don’t lift anything heavy, bend too far, or roll over in bed too quickly), and I’m just kinda chillin’ here at home.
The recent snowstorm came at the perfect time – we’re all stuck, so it doesn’t feel… well, like I’m a recovering cancer patient.
This morning the doctor called with the pathology and I did, indeed, have stage 1 seminoma testicular cancer.
It appears that I caught it very early; the tumors do not seem to have breached the testicular wall or metastasized, my lymph nodes aren’t enlarged and my blood tests did not show elevated tumor markers. The 5-yr survival rate for this type of cancer is 95% – but with my indicators, and considering my surgery went well, it’s 99.83%. Additionally, the 2005 data that showed the 0.17% mortality for my age group mentioned that a large portion of that fraction of a percentage died from complications that were likely reactions to chemotherapy, which it does not appear I will need.
My husband, family, and the few friends and coworkers that I made aware of the situation have been unwavering in their support.
If this is your first time hearing about it, don’t read into it; I only informed those who would be directly affected by my absence. I wanted to wait for pathology before sharing further. I also don’t like people making a total fuss over me (at least that’s… somewhat true…) so, instead of a bunch of awkward and emotional individual conversations, I’m posting it on facebook, and will likely send an email out as well.
So, that happened.
I’m still processing it all. But, my doctor said “If you had to pick a cancer, this is the one you’d want.” So there’s that.
For those of you who want to know if there is anything I need, or anything you can do for me, there are three things (two if you don’t have testicles):
1: Pay attention to your body – and don’t waste any time getting to your doctor if you notice anything weird. It was a fluke that I noticed this – I had no symptoms until the night before my surgery, when I started to feel pain that I probably would have ignored for a long time before actually thinking I had a problem. I was really, really, really lucky.
2: Guys, uhh… check your balls – Testicular Cancer is THE most common cancer for 18-40 year olds, and 95% of growth is cancerous. Lifestyle and family history mean nothing. I never did that awkward wax on, wax off, time-consuming testicular exam we were shown in school, and firmly believe there are approximately zero people reading this that do. What I DID do was take a hot bath before bed – and it was too hot to be under the covers afterwards, so I let myself air-dry, and felt the hardness adjusting myself (guys… you get it). It was obvious to the touch, but I had absolutely no reason to do so, and could have easily missed it. Don’t waste time if you notice any change in size (bigger or smaller) or anything not-smooth; a week or two could change whether you deal with a simple outpatient surgery, months of chemotherapy, or worse.
3: Lend a hand – As you can imagine, the past few weeks have been rough – emotionally and physically exhausting – and I have a few more before I’m going to be 100% again. As a result, I haven’t been able to put much volunteer time in, during a time when I’m usually ramping things up for the year ahead. It would mean the world to me if you would contribute in some way to NOVA Pride and/or VA Pride, whether through financial contributions (small or large), attendance at events, volunteering, or the occasional social media shout-out to spread the word.
EVERY SINGLE contribution is felt by, and has a MAJOR impact on, the stewards of the organizations and their ability to serve the community effectively and without burning out, replacing stress & anxiety with inspiration & motivation.
Please consider any or all of the above; it would make me so incredibly grateful – oh, and I believe my doctor did said it would help with my recovery, though I was also pretty high on pain killers when I left the hospital. smile emoticon
I wish for each and every one of you good fortune, strong health, and great happiness in the coming year and beyond. Thank you for being a part of my life – I am so incredibly grateful.
Top image of Brian Reach (left) with his husband Manuel Escalante
Attorney General Mark Herring on VA PrideFest: ‘If there was ever a moment for love, courage, and yes—PRIDE!—this is it!’
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