Tuesday, March 21, 2006

My ninth "birthday"

Nine years ago today, I took a trip to Parkview Hospital in Fort Wayne, Indiana. There, I would have outpatient surgery to remove an organ which had developed a lump that turned out to be a malignant tumor. During the last week of classed before Spring Break, I knew something was wrong. One of my testicles had swollen and was significantly larger than the other one. I was worried.

You see, my brother-in-law's younger brother (Jerry Beck) had died of testicular cancer several years earlier. He did not take action at the warning signs, so the cancer was not discovered until he was admitted to the hospital for pneumonia. By then it was too late, and despite the best efforts of his doctors, he passed away at home.

Since Jerry died, the men in our family were told that if we notice something wrong, we were to go to the doctor right away. those warning signs include, but are not limited to:

  • lump in either testicle
  • enlargement of a testicle
  • a feeling of heaviness in the scrotum
  • a dull ache in the lower abdomen or the groin
  • a sudden collection of fluid in the scrotum
  • pain or discomfort in a testicle or the scrotum
  • enlargement or tenderness of the breasts.

On the last day of classes before Spring Break, all I could think about was the very likely possibility that cancer was growing inside of me. So, I went home and went to the doctor on Monday, who set up an appointment with a specialist two days later. They did not want to waste any time: the organ was to come out that week. Two days after that, I was having outpatient surgery in Fort Wayne.

The worst part of the surgery was being sick from the anesthesia after I woke up. There was not very much pain, so I only took a couple of the "Tylenol 3" (Acetaminophen with Codeine) pills they gave me as I recovered at home. Keep in mind that I have a very low tolerance for pain, so if I say something doesn't hurt, it really doesn't hurt.

I remember moving out of the dorm. As I was checking my e-mail before heading back to my home town, my Resident Assistant popped his head into the computer lab. He didn't know why I had not been back (While I informed my professors and friends, it slipped my mind to call the dorm) and when I told him I was dropping out to deal with cancer he turned as white as a ghost.

8,980 men are diagnosed with testicular cancer each year in the United States. To bring the stats into perspective, 3.85 out of every 60,000 men will be diagnosed with TC each year. There are about 120,000 people (both sexes) in Monroe County, Indiana. (There are about 280 million people in the US, and about 50% of those are men. If 8,980/140,000,000=X/60,000 then X=3.85

The point of sharing this story is that I want to make sure people know how important it is for men to do a monthly Testicular Self Examination. It is as important for men to do this as it is for women to do a Breast Self-Exam. Testicular cancer is the most common cancer among young men from 18-35 years old, but it is highly curable if caught early. Long-term survival rates for men who detect it early are upwards of 90%.

Nine years later, I am still cancer-free.