A Tale of Two Cancer Journeys
How a two-time cancer survivor has learned to deal with hard times in a healthy way.
I have faced two cancer journeys in my life, but how I dealt with it each time couldn’t be more different.
My first cancer journey
When my first cancer journey began, I was just 21 years old, living at home and attending Miami University near my hometown in Ohio.
I was also working at a day care facility for kids with special needs. One day while I was tying a kid’s shoe, he accidentally kicked my testicle.
Instantly, I felt searing pain for several minutes and I started sweating profusely. It was much more painful than it should have been.
This became a clue that something was seriously wrong.
An alarming discovery
It was strange because I had recently passed a physical.
I saw a doctor who misdiagnosed me with epididymitis, or testicular swelling. Eventually, I met with a urologist who I hoped could give me answers.
A few days later, my mom sat me down and told me that the doctor had called and said I had testicular cancer.
I just started weeping.
I was in the prime of my life and the reality that something so devious was at play in my body devastated me.
From the beginning, I was determined to put my head down and just get through it, burying my emotions.
In hindsight, I now know how detrimental that was to my process. I’ve learned a lot about grief and why it’s important to grieve during in the process, not just afterwards.
But at the time, I was just an immature 21-year-old man.
Also, adding to the pressure, to keep my health insurance, I had to stay a full-time student.
Once a week, I received a shot of bleomycin that gave me flu-like symptoms for at least 24 hours. Still, I had to attend class, even during the days when I felt sick.
Even worse, I didn’t feel like I had the space to be honest with others or myself about how much I was struggling.
It was bleak.
I didn’t feel like my story mattered because I was just a young kid. I had cancer, but I felt like it was a disease for older people—those facing much harder situations than mine.
However, my cancer journey soon proved not so straightforward. The cancer had spread to my lungs and grew resistant to chemotherapy.
Then, I met with Lance Armstrong’s doctor, Lawrence Einhorn, who is considered the testicular cancer whisperer. He put me on a new treatment plan which eventually helped me close the door on this battle with cancer.
But later, I spent years unravelling all the pent-up emotion and sadness that I felt.
How I found hope, strength and peace
For me, hope came through my faith. I decided to have a relationship with God when I was 13 years old.
Even though I was struggling with cancer, I knew that even if I faced the worst-case scenario, I would still come out as a winner, as I would spend eternity with God in heaven.
Yet even with this hope, there were many days where I felt extremely isolated and sad, and that my experience didn’t matter.
Beginning another cancer journey
About 15 years later, I faced another cancer journey.
This time I was a husband and father in the midst of a career. Nine years prior, I met and married the woman of my dreams, Catherine, whom I had three beautiful daughters with.
One Sunday night, my wife and I met to talk about our week, share how we were doing and pray for each other, like we often do.
That night, I broke down. I did more than weep. I wailed and cried in a way that my wife had never seen me do before. I think I scared her.
For months, I faced many dark thoughts and emotions that built to that moment.
But I felt a new freedom when I finally let someone in on my struggle. Catherine told me that she loved me and that she would be there for me no matter what.
She also recommended I see a counselor, which I soon did.
Seeing a counselor
The counselor had me take a survey that revealed I was experiencing a “severe depressive episode.”
I shared that I had been dealing with suicidal thoughts, which I had been hiding for at least six months.
My counselor suggested I see my doctor to determine if there were any physical maladies contributing to my depression.
Indeed, there were. It turns out I had at least 20 cancerous tumors on my thyroid.
The thyroid is a small gland, but it regulates the body’s hormones. My doctor said the cancer caused hypothyroidism, which was the highest contributing factor to my depression.
My doctor performed surgery to remove my thyroid and prescribed me anti-depressants and thyroid medication, which helped improve my health.
But beyond the physical, I also needed to change I how dealt with the emotional struggles of cancer.
Doing life differently (how I changed)
I realized that I’m a professional at gaslighting myself, or pretending the pain didn’t happen or didn’t matter. This time I wanted to be honest with others about what I was going through.
After I told my wife and my counselor about my struggle, I also began letting others in, too.
I told my friends, my pastor and our church small group.
I became okay with being the poor sap who needs help and being able to communicate that with others, when it was appropriate. I also found a lot of strength in knowing that there were people behind me, no matter what happened.
People prayed and rallied around us, and when I passed the year mark from having cancer, people celebrated with us.
The process was vastly different than the first time I went through cancer.
I learned that my story matters, and that it’s vital to share about my pain and sadness with others because suffering can be something that really builds a bridge with others.
Advice for others
For people going through it, know that it’s okay for you to feel confused, sad and disoriented about having cancer.
No matter what your next steps are, no matter the outcome, know that you were created and designed by God, and you are valuable.
Whatever you experience in your journey, don’t dismiss it and know that even your suffering can have value. Take the time to be honest about your pain with yourself, and with those who care about you.
My story matters, and so does yours.
For more about how to begin a relationship with God see Knowing God Personally.
To unlock the power of prayer see Asking God for Help.
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