They say turning 40 is no big deal. Well, for me, it was. Three months after reaching the milestone birthday, I received news no one wants to hear. Cancer. Stage 2 testicular cancer.
They say turning 40 is no big deal.
Well, for me, it was.
Three months after reaching the milestone birthday, I received news no one wants to hear.
Cancer. Stage 2 testicular cancer.
I’d thought the pain in my side was a pulled muscle. My doctor’s first thought was that it might be a kidney stone. Two weeks after my doctor visit, I noticed a small, hard lump in my right testicle while taking a shower. More investigation was needed.
My doctor called me at work on the afternoon of Jan. 24, 2008.
This couldn’t be good. He had never called me before.
The conversation lasted less than five minutes. I slammed down the phone and started crying.
A co-worker ran into my office, hugging me as I sobbed. Soon, other workers joined my pity party.
Turns out the pain in my side and the lump in my testicle were friends. A CT scan revealed that I had a softball-sized mass in the space behind my abdominal cavity. An ultrasound also showed a small nodule mass in my testicle.
I had never been sick before. I got to 40 without any overnight hospital stays or surgical procedures, except for that visit to an emergency room when I injured myself playing softball in 1991. I broke my hand, but I made the catch.
I always knew there would be a few more bumps and bruises down the road.
But why cancer? Why now?
“The exact causes of testicular cancer are not known,” my oncologist, Dr. Kent Hoskins, said. “An undescended testicle and a family history are the main known risk factors. None of these risk factors can be prevented because they are present at birth. Also, many men with testicular cancer have no known risk factors.”
So it was a mystery.
But I was lucky. If you are going to get cancer, testicular cancer is the one to get, doctors told me. Although it’s rare — only 8,400 men in the United States will be diagnosed with testicular cancer this year — it’s highly curable, with a survival rate of more than 90 percent. Not bad, considering 30 years ago testicular cancer was a virtual death sentence.
I didn’t feel lucky. I was scared. This wasn’t one of those feel-good stories you read about where the victim shows true grit in the face of a serious illness. I was petrified and I didn’t care who knew. I had a potentially deadly enemy growing inside me, and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t run from it.
“Cancer really is a journey,” said Glenda Gottfred, one of my nurses at the Center for Cancer Care at OSF Saint Anthony Medical Center. “For the most part you walk along a pretty difficult path. You learn a lot of things about yourself, what you’re capable of doing and what you’re not capable of doing.”
What was I capable of doing? Could I survive cancer and its treatment? I’m not that strong, I thought. Despite reassurances from my doctors, family and friends that I was going to survive, I knew the road to recovery was going to be full of potholes.
My biggest fear was that I wouldn’t be around for my family. I wanted to grow old with my wife, Shauna. I wanted to be around to see my stepdaughter, Sara, get married, and my stepson, Aaron, graduate from college.
I wanted to see our son, Sam, who was eight at the time, become a man. I was 16 when my father died, and it created a colossal void in my life. Would Sam feel that same emptiness?
I felt lost.
“Depression is a normal response to a life-shattering condition,” said Norm Shirk, director of pastoral Care at SwedishAmerican Health System. “It’s a classic response to be worried to death. And when you’re thinking the worst, but less than the worst happens, you feel better.”
Tomorrow: Chemo becomes 'a second full-time job'
Paul Anthony Arco, 41, works for the Rockford Park District as the annual fund director. He has been a part-time writer for the Rockford Register Star for nearly 20 years, writing about high school sports, as well as arts and entertainment.
About this seriesPaul Anthony Arco was diagnosed with Stage 2 testicular cancer in January 2008 and began fighting the first illness of his life. Several operations and three rounds of chemotherapy later, his cancer is in remission and he decided to tell the story in hopes of raising awareness about the disease. This is the first installment of his four-part story. Arco, 41, works full-time as the annual fund director for the Rockford Park District. He is a Rockford native and earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from Marquette University. He has been a part-time writer for the Rockford Register Star for nearly 20 years, writing about high school sports, arts and entertainment. Arco lives in Belvidere with his wife, Shauna. They have three children: Sara, 23; Aaron, 20; and Sam, 9. Paul can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.