I have often equated getting cancer with suffering a drive-by shooting. There's no reason or rhyme to it. You just got hit, randomly, and now you must survive. You can curl up in a ball or you can start taking swings and fight back. Sometimes you'll be taking swings from a rolled-up-in-a-ball position... but nevertheless you'll be swinging. I was diagnosed with testicular cancer rather late in life for the average male (31 years old).
Just as I imagine a woman feels when dealing with breast or ovarian cancer, my diagnosis was disconcerting as it dealt with a most intimate part of my body. It felt like a betrayal. Yet, when I discovered that my cancer had been in my body my entire life, slowly growing since conception, I began to treat it like a "part that needed fixing." I would be going to the Body Shop, characterized not by grease and oil, but by blood and gowns that don't quite close in the back.
Too Much Good Advice
One of the most frustrating parts of having cancer is getting too much good advice. In my case, after my initial surgery (radical orchiectomy), I was faced with inconclusive results as to whether the cancer had spread up into my lungs. One doctor considered to be "without peer" told me to wait and observe my blood work for ten years (2 CT scans and 4 blood tests every year) to see if any other signs of cancer arose. Then treat with radiation or chemo.
Another doctor "without peer" said, have surgery (retroperitoneal lymph node dissection) and find out if the cancer is traveling throughout your body. Recovery from the surgery was about a month... and, don't worry, we're only cutting open your entire stomach and you might lose the ability to have normal intercourse (men's pipes are all mixed together in that way).
Some choice! Years of hospital visits, or risk precarious surgeon-snipping in your nether regions. In a way, you could look at it as a choice between Faith and Proof. Have faith on one hand in the experts advising you that the surgery is not necessary right now... you can just wait and see if the cancer comes back. The other side advocated getting proof as to whether there was cancer spreading; you could know very quickly, though with some risk.
In my case, I chose Proof... Recovery from the surgery was quite unpleasant. Two weeks later I had results. The cancer had not spread.
So if I had chosen Faith, things would have turned out the same: cancer free.
The hindsight in my case is interesting to note, but I'm happy with the choice I made. I felt like I had taken control of my situation and would not spend years "wondering" if the cancer would come back. And in any case I was thankful that my disease was now treatable. Only fifteen years prior, the mortality rate was 85%.
Most Valuable Ally
Today I'm 45 years old and my health is great. I'm active and athletic even with several pieces of my body removed. I find it easier than ever to not sweat small stuff and to focus on what I truly enjoy in life—my relationships.
It goes without saying that the support of family and friends was invaluable during that time fifteen years ago, but your most valuable ally is yourself. You learn a boldness from cancer. You learn to make tough decisions your own. You learn to listen to experts but not necessarily believe everything they say. You question everything. It's actually a great education.
Getting caught in that drive-by makes you tougher and smarter. No matter what the outcome of your fight. In many ways, cancer is making you the best version of yourself yet.
About the Author
Matthew Feitshans is a screenwriter and film producer living in Los Angeles. Active in sports and travel, Matthew has stayed in touch with his oncology health care professionals to this day.