Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Seeing the finish line...

One of the many questions I've asked myself during this trying time was "Why did this happen?"

Of course the simple answer would be "Why not?"

But to put things a little more in perspective. Testicular cancer is considered to be a very rare form of cancer. Only 1% of cancers in males. Even more rare for Asian-americans. Overall 1 in 270 males have a chance to acquire the disease and almost half of all cases happen to men between the ages of 20 and 34.

So...lucky me?

After being diagnosed, my thoughts and memories often turned to all the loved ones that passed away from cancer.  I mourned their loss again. I longed for their counsel. I shared in their fear.  I'm sure there were moments in their diagnosis where they felt similar to me.

Feelings of fear, turning to sheer terror,  alternating with hope, then eventual acceptance.

How did they feel and what did they think as they reached the finish line of life?

I admit I still have fears and worries, but I'm finding them increasingly manageable as the days go by.

I guess if people were on the outside looking in at my situation,  if there is a  kind of cancer to get, the preferable one would be the one with an over 90% survival rate.

I'm still a bit worried that because of the kind of insurance coverage that I have. I won't have access to premium services. Short cuts might be made in my case when in other situations they wouldn't. Just getting my tumor removed required a bit of jerry rigging of the system. The specifics I rather not disclose. But I have to trust my doctors. They have covered for me this far.

At this point. I'm feeling positive about my prognosis. My tests all came back clean. CT scan showed no abnormalities. X-rays were clear. Blood tests were negative. The mass is now removed and no longer in my body. I'm hoping that it stayed isolated. I have a follow up with my urologist in a couple of weeks to discuss my treatment options.

My next step is possibly one dose of chemotherapy and or a radiation treatment, then I will have to observe and have periodic checkups every three months.

The drawback is that this will be for the next 5 to 10 years.

The most prominent issue I'm dealing with now is dealing with the loss of a testicle. Some occasional nausea. I spent so much time focusing on survival, I didn't really stop to consider the idea of losing a physical part of me. An important part of me.

Men spend their lives protecting that area. It's ingrained in us since we are little. Even wearing a cup in little league and a jock strap in sports to support that area. It's comical to think about the idea but it's true.

That area represents a man's virility, health and sexuality.

Does losing a testicle make me less of a man? Will my testosterone be too low? Will my sexual performance suffer? Will my peers view me differently knowing that I only have one testicle?

It's funny when you consider these things out loud. Of course the answer to all these concerns are probably no.

At least I hope they are.

But these are my honest fleeting thoughts. They were especially prominent before my surgery.

Post surgery, physically I feel fine.  I admit that there exists a strange feeling now. To have an empty space where there used to be something. Nerve endings that weren't previously exposed are now touching each other. I find myself adjusting often. Hopefully I won't do this too much unconsciously in public.

It's also clear I'm also gonna have to transition from boxers to boxer briefs. I'm acutely more conscious about what is going on down there now. I'm promising myself to not procrastinate about physical ailments.

Which brings us back to HOW did I get this disease? The traditional causes of cancer are not part of my lifestyle.  Cancer is not in my immediate family. I don't smoke. I rarely drink alcohol anymore. Don't experiment with drugs. It's been years since I've even had a hit of Marijuana. I like to think I live a relatively stress free lifestyle, although the idea of having four kids under the age of 7 may seem stressful to others.

I was able to come up with three possibilities. As far fetched as it sounds.

My first theory is my fondness for junk food. Erin is a supporter of this theory. And she is using this as an opportunity to change my diet and lifestyle. She's been after me for years to be more conscious of my diet and often has encouraged me to exercise more.

It's time to take up her flag. I can't fight her on this anymore. The truth is getting cancer has given her all the ammunition she needs.

Theory 2:  Radiation from Japan's Nuclear disaster.

Yeah... I know it's absurd. But I'm clutching at straws here.

And my final theory... radiation from my cellphone.

I keep my cellphone in my right front pocket. I've been doing it for years. I've observed  my phone overheating in the past while in my pocket and I've often wondered what harmful effects that the overheating and low level radiation may cause. Maybe whatever causes cancer was in me already and the overheating and radiation just triggered it?

I know it sounds ridiculous. As I said, it's a theory.

Whatever the cause of my my testicular mass. The truth is it doesn't matter.

I have had it in me, it's been removed and I will continue to fight the effects from it. My life will never be the same again.

And that's not necessarily a bad thing.

If there is a positive to take away from all this it's that this has made me more conscious of how precious life is.

It's made me see the finish line.

At the risk of sounding overly sentimental. It's made me appreciate my life more. My friendships. My family. I hug my kids a little tighter now. Made me more appreciative of Erin and our relationship.  I'm trying to not sweat the little things as much.  I'd like to think that it's given me a sharper perspective on what's important.

I know that this is just the beginning of this cancer challenge. But I can see the finish of this chapter. I'm confident I will beat this.

I'm also hoping it makes me a better person at the end. And lead to an overall better life for me and my family

I admit... I'm still scared. But I can see the finish line.

Not the scary kind of finish line though. The kind that features a victory celebration at the finish with all my friends and family.

Here are a couple of Testicular cancer facts I want to share. Hopefully it will inspire someone to take action. Maybe save someone some anxiety.

Most lumps or bumps down there are relatively harmless and tend not to be cancer. Some of the more common causes for testicular pain or swelling are infections, hernias, hydroceles and varicoceles.

The symptoms for testicular cancer also don't appear to be alarming at first. Many times there is no pain. The most common symptom is a painless lump. Sometimes it can be accompanied by a heavy or aching feeling in the lower belly or scrotum.

I can confirm that the feeling that I experienced was not alarming. In fact if it wasn't for straining my back moving a kiddie pool of water, I probably wouldn't have suspected anything. I actually  thought that my symptoms pointed to my condition being a hernia.

Some of the risk factors which contribute to testicular cancer are an undescended testicle, family history of testicular cancer,  HIV infection and carcinoma in situ. But since testicular cancer is so rare there isn't really an effective study which reveals notable risk factors.

Remember according to citations from Wikipedia:

Testicular cancer has one of the highest cure rates of all cancers: in excess of 90 percent overall; almost 100 percent if it has not spread (metastasized). Even for the relatively few cases in which malignant cancer has spread widely, modern chemotherapy offers a cure rate of at least 80%.

Don't wait! The sooner you deal with it the better! 

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Sleeping with the television on...

I sleep with the television on.

I've been doing it ever since I could remember. I suspect that maybe it started as a kid being afraid of the dark. But now it's not about that anymore.

As an adult, I need the television on to distract me from my thoughts so I can finally fall asleep. My thoughts aren't usually dark. Most of the time it's just trivial stuff. Funny memories. Tasks that need to be done. Thoughts about my friends and family. Ideas and regrets from the day.

I need the sounds from the television to keep my thoughts quiet.

Maybe it's also about being in a room that's alive while I'm asleep. To remind me there's a world waiting for me to wake up.  It took awhile for Erin to get used to it. She likes the television off when she sleeps. In fact, I still don't think she's used to it.

If the television is on while I'm sleeping and someone turns it off I'll wake up in a panic.

The silence can be deafening.

It's been hard getting some sleep lately.

Part of the obstacle is that I work graveyard shift. 12:00 am to 8 am. Not that I mind that. In fact, I rather enjoy it. It gives me more time to be with the kids and Erin. But combined with the visit to the E.R. and the day of tests, which I have experienced these previous two days, I've only been able to get maybe four hours sleep... total.

Today with nothing on the schedule I tried to get some winks.

It didn't work out so well.

My thoughts are running away with me.

It's exhausting.

I keep wondering what the hell is going on inside my body. Is the cancer growing? Is it multiplying?

This morning after breakfast Evie wanted to play her favorite game, Zombie with me. The game basically consists of me chasing her around the backyard till I catch her, tickle her and nibble on her body parts.

Evie will play this game with me for hours if she had her way. It's a game that only daddy can play with her. It's not the same with mommy.

She especially loves it when big brother Brayden joins in because she uses him as a human shield. They will often run away holding hands. They hide in places together and will protect each other when I catch one of them. Now that Bohdan is older he has joined in on the fun. Except he squeels in delight when I catch him. And cries when I get distracted and won't chase him.

He'll get the hang of it.

Nolan doesn't like it when daddy plays zombie. He's happy watching the action from inside the house within earshot of mommy. So that he can run to her in case I should turn my unwanted attention towards him through the window.

This morning while chasing Evie. I started experiencing phantom pains. I got winded after a few minutes. I felt like my stomach was cramping. Back was stiffening. I felt a little light headed. I became acutely aware of the air in my lungs and my ribs expanding.

My thoughts were....crap these are the advanced signs of cancer.

The game ended early to Evies' disappointment.

I shared my thoughts with Erin and she pointed out that likely I was just fatigued from lack of sleep.

Not to mention that I'm also a computer nerd that's old and out of shape. Cancer or not.

I decided to try and catch some winks.

I got maybe a couple of hours rest when my thoughts and fears took over. After awhile I got up angry. Pissed that there was nothing I could do. And completely ignorant about what was happening to me.

I want to fight but I don't know who the enemy is yet.

The thing that continues to haunt me is that I waited too long to share my concerns about the mass. I decided to research the symptoms that Tom Green and Lance Armstrong experienced before they finally got help.

Apparently Tom Green experienced similar symptoms. He was actually misdiagnosed at first and waited before he got a second opinion. He was actually experiencing pain down in the scrotum for awhile before he got help.

I don't have any pain. Just a heaviness down there.

Lance Armstrong however waited till he had blinding headaches and was coughing up blood. Blood!  His cancer spread to his brain and lungs and were in advanced stages.

I'm nowhere near that point.

Even with all those odds against him. He had four rounds of chemo-therapy and was able to beat it.

Granted I'm not a world champion athlete. But I like to think I have more will to survive than Lance did. I have four little reasons why I NEED to live.

I shared the info with Erin and she assured me that everything would be okay. She was confident that I would be fine.

She was sure of it.

 I was comforted by her resolve and determination.

I could use some more of that confidence not from just her but from myself.

I need to convince myself that everything is going to be fine. That this operation is going to be as routine as the surgery I received when I was getting my appendix out last year.

Noticing that I was up and awake, Evie requested we play more zombie.

This time we played until SHE got tired and ran out of gas.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

A day of tests...

I get off of work and the first thing I want to do is go to the hospital. 

I don't want to wait till 2pm for my appointment with my primary care physician to be referred to a urologist. I decide I will go to the ER of the UCLA affiliated hospital that my ER doctor recommended that will accept medi-cal.

I've waited and procrastinated long enough. 

Erin forces me to eat breakfast before I go. I hear Brayden open up the back door to go outside. Nolan jumps on my lap asking to watch YouTube videos. Evie is already asking if I could push her on the swing in the backyard. Bohdan points at my computer screen and says "Hulk". 

He likes watching Hulk smash things in the Marvel movies. I'm in the mood for it too. 

I kiss Erin goodbye before I leave. I start to breakdown. Erin comforts me.

I debate whether I really want to share my venting post from my initial diagnosis. 

I share the post on Facebook before I step out the door. 

While driving I hear the encouraging chimes of Facebook notifications I'm getting on my phone from my friends. 

The E.R waiting room is ridiculously crowded. There are a lot of sick people in the room. Lots of lines. Lots of doors. Lots of filled chairs. Lots of waiting. 

I move from check-in, then to two different nurse evaluation stations. 

Both times their initial question haunts me. "When did you first notice the mass?" I shake my head no in ignorance.

I don't remember. 

I'm approved for urgent care. 

After several hours I finally see the doctor. He reads me a checklist of symptoms.

I don't have any of them. At least I don't think I do. 

He physically checks my limp nodes and body for lumps. 

All clear.

He exams the testicle. Confirms it's a mass and says he'll schedule an appointment with the urologist. 

"It's cancer. But there are alot of different kinds of cancer."

I don't think there's any good kind.

One thing is for sure. The thing is coming out. So they could send it away to be analyzed.

Good riddance. 

"Please schedule something as soon as you can. I'm freaking out."

He comes back and says the urologist will see me "within the week."

My heart drops. 

But he also states that I will get a round of tests today. Blood tests. X-Rays. Another sonogram and then a C.T. scan.  

It's more than I expected. At least today will be productive. 

I wait.

Each testing station has a waiting room. I'm constantly reminded there are a ton of other sick people in this world too. I overhear a young lady say she was diagnosed with breast cancer. 

She can't be over 22.

I can't get reception in the hospital. Occasionally, it breaks through and I'm able to read some Facebook comments from my post. I'm profoundly touched whenever I read a new one. I get emotional several times throughout the day while reading.  I'm sure it looks weird. 

When I can't get reception. I look at family pics on the phone. I miss Erin and the kids. 

I watch the blood as they draw it from me into the vials. 

Are there cancer cells swimming around in there? 

The x-ray room is dark. Comically, I start to undress. And the guy tells me to keep everything on. I remember it's still unusual for people to see me naked.  He then has me contort into a weird standing position. Arms in the air. Chin up. Back straight. Chest out. Shoulders touching the platform. I'm wearing what feels like a bulletproof apron around my waist. He points the x-ray machine at me. Back and side x-rays. I hope this thing doesn't give me cancer. 

As I leave the room. I try to peek at the x-rays. Not sure what I'd be looking for. I know from watching movies that if I see black spots that's probably not a good sign. I don't see anything in the split second I peek.

When it's time for the sonogram I'm comforted by the fact that I already know the results of that test. But doubts start to creep in. What if they find more? I over-analyze everything.

He asks my favorite question. "When did you first notice the mass?"

He leaves the room for a bit. I realize I'm laying down with everything covered and only my scrotum exposed. Must be a funny sight. 

The doctor catches me in the hall. Two of your blood tests came back negative. Waiting for a third. He walks off.

Negative for what? I already know that I have cancer. I realize he means for other kinds of cancers. At least I think that's what he means.

More waiting.

It's been three hours since my last test. I'm still waiting for the C.A.T. Scan. They need to do another blood test for my kidneys to be sure it's safe to use the iodine during the test. 

The guy sharing the waiting room with me is a victim from a stabbing. Got stabbed seven times. He has a piss bag. He's having complications from the surgery. He shares that he has fluid in his lungs.

I picture one of my kids his age. How do I prevent something like that happening to one of them? What if that happens to me? What if I was ever in the wrong place at the wrong time? What would happen to my kids? 

Doctor comes over to me. The blood tests came back negative.  I ask him what that means. He tells me that they test for different levels to determine kinds of cancer. 

"So basically  it's some good news right?"  He confirms its good. 

I walk into the CT scan room and the operator is saying a prayer. Is he praying for me? That's a nice gesture. Or maybe he's just talking to himself with his eyes closed holding his hand over a book.   

I lay down on the CT scan gurney. "You might get a warm feeling from the iodine in your blood."  

Scary thoughts run through my head. 

This is likely the test that will determine if the cancer has spread. 

The voice prompts me. Take a breath....hold it....and breath. The gurney slides into the center of the circular machine ominously. I see something in the machine spinning. Is something going to come out? 

The machine focuses first on my chest, then my head, than my groin. 

The guy running the test comes in. "Raymond, What are you being tested for? What is your ailment?" I tell him about my mass in my testicle. "But no pain anywhere right?"  I confirm that is correct. 

He leaves. I think ...does that mean he didn't see anything? Maybe.... it means he saw too much. 

He does another pass on my groin. 

I ask when will I be able to discuss the results with a doctor. The nurse informs me that the urologist will go over it with me. 

"When will that be? "

Sometime in the week I should get a call. If I don't hear anything I have to call or come back to urgent care again. 

Holy. I think to myself. They might not get back to me within the week? A whole week? I'd really get lost in the system like that?  Seriously?

So...like it or not...it's the waiting game.  

I really wish I could find out the results sooner. I wish I could know what was in the results.

I'd give up my right nut to find out. 

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

I have cancer... and I'm scared

Yesterday, after a visit with the doctor they confirmed that I have a mass in my right testicle.

I'm scared.

I'm also angry at myself because I waited longer than I needed to. I keep beating myself up about that. What was I thinking?

So stupid.

Obviously, a part of me was in denial. I'm the poster child for procrastination. I'm not sure it's productive to keep beating myself up about it. But I can't help it.

Thoughts of the cancer spreading is keeping my mind racing. A big part of me just wants to go to the kitchen counter, grab a knife and cut the mass out myself. I hate that it's inside me.

My next step is to have my primary care practitioner refer me to a urologist. I have an appointment today.  But another option is to go to another hospital that the ER doctor recommended from UCLA and hope their referral will get me to see a urologist sooner.

I don't have insurance. I have medi-cal or whatever they are calling it now.

I hope I don't slip through the cracks.

I'm sorry. I don't know why I'm writing this.

I read on The Testicular Cancer Society page that I should start a page on the subject. To keep loved ones "updated". But I suspect it's more about venting.

Which I admit IS helping me right now.

Keeps me out of my head. Keeps me from pacing. Keeps me from imagining the worst case scenarios and from beating myself up too much.  I decided to write this post here on my old blog, Ray's Lucky 13. Maybe it will bring me some luck. It's been awhile. Maybe nobody will read it. I don't know.

I have been working on my entertainment blog mostly nowadays. But I don't think this subject is appropriate for that site.

I don't think ball cancer qualifies as entertainment.

I keep thinking of cancer movies.

50/50 with Joseph Gordon Levitt and Seth Rogen has a happy ending. But more often than not cancer movies don't end well.  I know Tom Green had testicular cancer and is alive and well. So is Lance Armstrong. In fact according to stats, recovery is very high for testicular cancer. On average over 90%.

I hope I'm not in the minority.

I'm scared my kids are gonna grow up without a father. I'm scared Erin will have to raise them alone.

I don't want to die.

Kids are asleep right now. I just want to hug them so hard that I'm inside of them. Like a warm blanket.

I know people will say don't worry. Everything will be fine.

But will it?

I'm scared.

I'm tired of reading cancer information sites.

Best case scenario is surgery. Chemotherapy. Radiation.


I keep thinking I'm experiencing advanced signs of the cancer. Back pain. Stomach pain. Fevers. Headaches.  It's probably just in my head.


To be honest,  I didn't really have many signs besides the hard feel of my testicle and the heaviness down there. I strained my back moving the kiddie pool a couple of weeks back. So a part of me thought that the groin pain was because I pulled something.

I was hoping it was a hernia.

I guess I also felt fatigue. But I work graveyard shift and I don't really get to sleep well, so I'm sort of always tired. But I'd be lying if I said I didn't suspect something sooner. I kept waiting for another symptom. To get me going.

So stupid. No excuse.

Don't borrow trouble. Stay positive.

That's what Erin says and I keep telling myself.

It was hard telling Erin. Then telling my mom and sister. I felt like I let them down.

Not sure if I'm crying for them or for myself.

I'm not sure why I'm telling you. I don't really want the drama.

But I'm scared.

Keep happy thoughts. Stay positive.