This is written by a friend from high school, who just recently experienced his battle with cancer. He is willing to share his journey with everyone, and it touched my heart that he is so open. You don't find many people like him, especially being a man! Thank you Donnie, and know that I will keep you in my thoughts as I walk 60 miles, you are one of the people that will get me through when the going gets rough. You are an inspiration!!!
|Raising my shoe in tribute to the survivors!|
Hi. My name is Donnie Smith. I am 38 years old and I am a testicular cancer survivor.
My journey began in late August 2010 with a swollen and tender left testicle. At first I thought it to be a work related injury as I am a carpenter and strains and pains tend to go with the job. I waited until late September before I took action. My 2 kids were back in school and my wife had just started a new fulltime job. So with things settled a bit I decided it was time to get checked out. Little did I know what was about to unfold. I made an appointment with my regular doctor on a Tuesday afternoon. She examined me and ordered an ultrasound for the next morning. Wednesday morning was an ultrasound appointment and I went back to work. My doctor called by about 11:30 and said I needed to see my urologist immediately. The ultrasound showed signs of "nodes". Not good. I got a ride to a 2:30 appointment and my wife met me there. The urologist examined me, gave me the hard squeeze and excused himself to review my ultrasound films. He was back in the room in less than a minute, sat down and calmly explained that he had an opening in tomorrows surgery schedule and would be removing Old Lefty at that time. Uh....what? He continued to say that there was more tumor than testicle and it needed to come out asap. My wife and I drove home in shock. I called the people that needed to know and when we got home I sat the kids down and explained it to them. None of us knew what to think or how to feel. So Thursday morning at 10:30 they wheeled me in, knocked me out, and removed the offending item. I was sent home later that same day. Keep in mind that all this took place within a 48 hour period. It all happened so fast that we didn't really have time to react. It was a blessing at first because we didn't have the freak out phase before it all came down. The next week was a lesson in post traumatic stress syndrome. A few weeks went by and my post surgery bloodwork showed that the cancer tumor marker levels had returned to normal.
Given my particular level of cancer involvement I was given two choices, surgery or chemotherapy. The surgery was called "retro peritoneal lymph node dissection". The doctor would cut me open from sternum to belt line, put my guts aside on a tray, and remove the lymphatic tissue from the left side of my abdomen. The tissues would then be examined for cancer cells. If none were found I was free and clear. If they were found I was off to chemo. I didn't want to have the surgery and certainly didn't want to have both surgery and chemo. All my doctors recommended the surgery due to my blood levels being normal. Even the oncologist thought it was the right thing to do and he's the one selling chemo! So against my gut I signed up for the surgery. This was mid October and by this time I was able to button up some loose ends work wise and began making preparations for the pending surgery. My date was set for Dec. 13 2010 and I was having a hard time accepting it. Being cut open like that was going to change thing forever. I'm an active person and use my body to work every day. This haunted me. I had a pre-op exam on Dec. 1and by the Thursday before the surgery I had made my peace with it and was focused and determined. The family had come through with dinners made and in the freezer, schedules changed to accommodate my recovery, and many prayers said by everyone I knew. I went through the 36 hour bowel prep and was ready the morning of. It was a grey and dreary morning that day. I was admitted to the hospital and was waiting for things to get started. They had me in a pre-op room in my gown and it seemed to be taking a while. They hadn't even hooked up an IV yet. My Mom was waiting with me because my wife had to go to work. Her new job was at the hospital so she was in the building anyway. From my bed I noticed that the skies had cleared and the sun was out. This gave me a feeling that everything would be OK. After a bit more time my doctor came in to review the process. He sat next to me and explained that there would be no surgery for me that day. Apparently my pre-op bloodwork results were no available to him until that very morning. My tumor markers had risen again showing a presence of cancer cells. Since the purpose of the surgery was to determine whether there was any disease remaining, there was no need to move forward. That's great for me! No surgery! I didn't want it anyway! I'm gonna go get something to eat! My wife on the other hand realized what this meant right away and was very upset. I still had cancer. It wasn't gone. Now I must go through chemo. My son had a winter band concert at school that night and I was able to attend. Needless to say there were quite a few shocked friends and family members at that event when I walked in. As that week played out I went through another round of post traumatic stress syndrome and had to accept my situation again. The emotional roller coaster was taking its toll. Still I was thankful to have not been cut open and my family and I were able to relax a bit and enjoy Christmas and New Years.
Chemotherapy. My oncologist warned me that it was no walk in the park and had its own batch of side effects. I had a port installed on Jan. 6 2011 and began chemo on Jan. 10. I was slated for 4 cycles of chemo. Every day for 1 week then 2 weeks off to recover and repeat. What a ride. The first week of chemo was a learning experience. Not only the way my body reacts but also the chemo room itself. I gained a tremendous amount of perspective and humility seeing what others were going through. I was amazed at how people in such a dire situation were capable of such courage and strength. It affected my attitude immensely. Throughout my treatments I was able to maintain a positive outlook, a sense of humor, and a determination to get through it and beat cancer. I tried to drive myself on Mondays and Tuesdays. It gave me a sense of accomplishment and helped keep my head right. By Wednesday though I needed a ride. Mom, Dad, and my sister took turns taking me with my sister putting in the most time. I claimed my own chair in the chemo room. It was on the other end of the room near the bathroom and facing the windows instead of the TVs so it was usually empty. I'd much rather look outside than stare at a TV all day. Towards the end of my treatment the nurses would save it for me and even put a reserved sign on it. I played cards and computer solitaire to pass the time. Some days I would just chat with my family or the people around me. I got about 2500ml of fluids each day. Some with drugs and some without. By the end of each day I had visited the bathroom 5 or 6 times and felt like I was floating. My poor wife had to work the whole time and never got to take me for treatments. Without her income and insurance we would have been ruined by this. She had the unfortunate job of caring for me at home. I wasn't always able to convey the information needed for my care. The nurses would tell me during the day but chemobrain is real and I wouldn't always remember at night so she just had to wing it alot. I forced myself to eat 3 meals a day no matter how small and luckily I didn't lose any weight along the way, just muscle tone. The weekend after treatment was always terrible. I would only get out of bed long enough to eat. By Monday after I would start to come around and by Wednesday I would be feeling pretty good. By the end of the 2 week break in between I was eating well and could even stomach a Guinness or two. Then it would start all over again. Some good news came at the office visit between round 2 and 3. Apparently the blood tests taken just after round 2 showed that my tumor markers had returned to normal levels. This meant I was responding well to treatment and now I just had to finish the medicine. Good news to be sure. My last week of treatment was very rough. The symptoms after each round were progressively more intense and by the end of my last week I was wiped out. It felt great to be done but there was nothing to really enjoy except for that one fact. The week to follow was very down and out but as usual I started to come back around.
Recovery from chemo isn't without its challenges either. My last day of chemo was March 25 and that's been about 6 weeks ago. The oncologist assured me that since it took him 3 months to do this to me, it will take 3 months to get myself back. The nurses claim is that by Thanksgiving I'll truly feel like myself again. At this point its frustrating that I can't go out and do all the things I want. I still can't work on a regular basis. It seems that I'll be OK for a few days then fatigue sets in and I have to rest. I'm struggling to find an even pace between activity and rest. It is now mid-May and although I feel pretty good I'm certainly not there yet. The oncologist visit yesterday revealed that my recent CT scans are normal and my bloodwork is normal. So my official current status is "in remission" which is a great feeling. He will see me again in 3 months for another checkup but for now I'm good to go.
In all I am very lucky. My disease was minimal, localized, and caught in a timely manner. I've made it through treatment and am well on my way in recovery. The whole event has given me a different perspective on what is important in my life. It has brought my family much closer together. I've spent more time with my kids lately than in years past and that is a great thing. I'm trying desperately to be patient with myself and allow time for the strength to come back. I'm told it will. For now I'll be content playing Mr. Mom and doing whatever I can to help out. I get to put my son on the bus every day and spend time with my daughter and wife like never before and it won't always be like that. I feel very blessed that my battle with cancer came down like it did and am grateful for all that I have, more so than ever before.
Thanks to all the doctors, nurses, volunteers, friends and family members who cared for me and supported me through this time. It would have been a terrible thing to go through alone. I can only hope that anyone faced with cancer or any disease has the support they need to make it through as I did.