"There's something up with Righty." Steph, the boys and I were driving home one Sunday from Effingham, Illinois about three years ago. For the past half hour, I'd been dancing like a fart in a skillet. No matter which way I moved, my right testicle wasn't feeling the joy of a summer Sunday, not even with the Cardinals beating the Cubs 5-3.
"Did you do something to it?" asked Stephanie.
"Not to my knowledge," I said.
"Did one of the boys accidentally kick you earlier?"
Sadly, I wished that one of the boys had kicked me earlier, as this would explain my pain. With no extracurricular testicular reason for the malady, I could only come to one conclusion: my testicular cancer came back.
My life was so different when I found out the left side was trying to kill me back in 2002. Stephanie and I had only been dating a couple of months. Kids were not even an iota of a thought in my consciousness. My responsibilities were slim-to-none. I had a job. I had a car. Be all. End all.
But now that I thought my cancer was back, I began freaking out, asking a litany of questions guaranteed to make things worse.
*Did it come back stronger than before?
*Will I have to lose Righty like I lost Lefty?
*If I do, will Stephanie and I still be able to have sex, or will I have to get one of those pump thingys?
*What will it do to my boys to see me sick?
*Will I be able to handle that much chemo again?
*Why don't I feel like I have the strength to face this again?
*Why am I so afraid?
*Will I die?
*Why do I have to leave them, God? I'm not ready to leave them.
As far as I was concerned, I was Dead Man Driving. I didn't have the bravado of a 29 year old. I had the fear of a 39 year old who was only going to have the privilege of being a husband and a dad for less than ten years.
The next day, I found out that my cancer was, in reality, just a mild infection. I went to see my doctor, and after some not so gentle manipulation, he broke out his pad and paper. The prescription was Amoxicillan, the same stuff our boys get when they have earaches. Two days after starting the pills, the pain went away and hasn't returned since.
I was angry with myself for giving in to that kind of fear. I couldn't reconcile why it hit me so hard. Hell, I'd beaten it before, so I could beat it again.
And that's when my answer came to me: I wasn't quite as scared before because I had no idea what to expect, and once I realized what I would be going through, I was already in the middle of it. Yet in this case, I knew exactly what beating it would entail, and I knew just how terrible it was and how I never wanted to go through it again.
But I also wondered if other people went through the same thing. Did brain cancer survivors initially freak out if they got a headache? Did colon cancer survivors worry if they had bathroom issues? Did ovarian cancer survivors excessively worry if their stomachs bloated, when in reality, it may have just been a case of too much salt?
I got a glimpse of my answer a couple of days ago. I was blessed to be a part of an amazing event at our local Cancer Support Community center in St. Louis, where a bunch of young adult cancer patients and survivors would get together to talk about how to fight back. One of the would-be participants was someone whom I had invited personally. She was a double breast cancer survivor, and a total badass.
On the day of the event, she sent me a message on Facebook.
We are not going to be able to make it tonight. Thursday I found on lump on my chest wall. Friday I went to the oncologist and she sent me immediately over to the hospital to get an ultra sound. After doing 2 of them they did 6 mammograms. They told me I need an immediate biopsy. I will have it today at 2pm. I will not find out the results until tomorrow. I think I will be too emotional to sit through the dinner.
But then, the real kicker came.
You know what is funny. After I was done with everything I got my pink ribbon tattoo as closure and thought I was done with this cancer bullshit. I have learned you are never done with cancer.
And sadly, she's right. I don't think about my own journey with cancer every day, but it does loom in the back of my mind, ready to rear its ugly head with any twitch in the berry. And while it may try to bully me, I like standing up to bullies. And though it may try to manipulate me, it can't control me. And the more I talk about it, and confront it, and confound it, the weaker it gets.
So to those who know the fear of which I speak, know that you're not alone, and you are by no means crazy. They're nothing but miniscule, temporary annoyances...like your Uncle Ted. Or a bad penny.
Or in my case, a swift kick in the ball.
Oh, and PS...my friend's test came back negative :)