Testicular Cancer (cont.)

Just like that, I had become part of a trend: I had likely been stricken with a form of cancer that has, over the past three decades, increased in frequency an astonishing 60% (according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), striking mostly young men like me. The doctor probably told me that it was a very curable cancer, but I was in such a state of shock, I could barely understand what he was saying.

That next Monday -- just after moving into our new house -- I went in for surgery. I was home that afternoon, with a huge bandage on my crotch and a gigantic ice pack in my pants. The procedure, called an orchiectomy, involves removing the testicle through an incision in the groin. A week later the biopsy report came back: "Nonseminomatous mixed germ-cell tumor primarily consisting of embryonal carcinoma."

In other words: Cancer.

Luckily, the report said the cancer hadn't spread to my lymph nodes or bloodstream. Even so, I was faced with a tough decision. I could watch and wait to see if the cancer was truly cured. Or I could undergo what's called a retroperitoneal lymph node dissection, or RPLND. In short, a surgeon opens you up from below the navel to the middle of your chest, lifts your internal organs out of the way, and removes all the lymph nodes that could be cancerous if the tumor has spread.

The prospect terrified me. But so did the idea of doing nothing.

Surfing for Survival

I got on the Internet, looking for help and information. I found plenty of it, along with moral support. I also found out about Indiana University, known for its expertise in treating testicular cancer. I made an appointment, and a week later my wife and I hit the road.

I've since learned that testicular cancer is often misdiagnosed. The problem -- as I was about to learn firsthand -- is that because it's so rare, most doctors don't see it all that often. The ones back home had told me the cancer hadn't spread. But when the same slides were reviewed at Indiana University, the report indicated that, in fact, it had. I had learned one important lesson: Always get a second opinion. Always.

With this latest round of bad news, I decided to have the dreaded RPLND. I wanted to kill this beast while I had the upper hand.

At the age of 23, I never thought I'd have to make my peace with God. But on the morning of the surgery, I did. Saying goodbye to my wife before entering the operating room was hard enough. But one of the most difficult moments was when I saw my dad for the first time after surgery. He looked shaken, and as he took my hand, he asked in a low voice how I was doing. I gripped his hand as hard as I could and told him not to worry.

Feeling Like Burnt Toast

The six days I spent in the hospital were pretty tough. At first I needed help getting out of bed. By the third day, I was just beginning to feel better when my primary care doctor came to see how I was doing. He happened to mention in passing that my urologist had found one node that was positive for cancer. And then he left.