Adventures in Sound: A sigh of relief

Posted: March 6th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , | 6 Comments »

I must have come up with a dozen different ways to say this.

I thought about being witty. I thought I could be funny. Or somber. Or brave. Strident. Shaken.

Finally, I decided it was best to just say it: Two weeks ago, I was diagnosed with testicular cancer.

The only way I can keep everything straight is from the beginning, so I’ll start there. About three weeks ago I noticed a bump on my testicle. It didn’t seem to be very big — around the size of a small pea, maybe — and it wasn’t painful; I’d had a slight groin pull around the same time and thought that might have had something to do with it. But when it didn’t go away after a week I told Sandy and together we decided that I should go to the doctor. On Monday, Feb. 25, I went to see my GP.

The doctor didn’t like it, saying it felt like a solid mass. Our doctor, thankfully, has always been very proactive both in terms of treatment and prevention, and she sent us to get an ultrasound that same afternoon. She also told me to get an appointment with an urologist, who would take a closer look at it and make a more definitive diagnosis. In the meantime, an ultrasound is essentially giving real-time images, so my doctor’s initial assessment was confirmed immediately — the mass wasn’t a cyst.

When I called her Tuesday to let her know I had an appointment with the urologist for the following Monday, she said, “Mmm, no, you need to call back and get something sooner. Something no later than tomorrow or Thursday.” Luckily, there was a cancellation, and I managed to see him that same day.

I think that’s when things started getting scary. Things were quickly going from abstract to concrete, and it was a reality that frightened me more than I could have expected. My mom and both of my grandmothers had cancer, and in a way I always kind of thought, in the back of my mind, that I would get it someday. But that is a long way from actually getting it. Unfortunately, that’s what the urologist confirmed, and that’s when he diagnosed me with testicular cancer.

It’s an awful experience, in ways I couldn’t have imagined. Waiting for answers is one of the worst things; worrying about what it could mean for Sandy the absolute worst. For the next few days we alternated between being positive and crying in each other’s arms.

Things had already been moving fast, and it just got faster. That afternoon I had blood work done; two days later, on a Thursday, I got a CT scan to see if the cancer had spread. The CT tech, like every one else I had dealt with to that point, was nice — cheerful, positive, careful not to promise any results one way or the other. I had a follow-up with the urologist the following Monday, which meant a long weekend of being desperate for answers but dreading a phone call from the doctor. We figured if we didn’t hear from him, that was a good sign — otherwise it would mean things were worse than we’d hoped.

Friday, while we were out for dinner, we allowed ourselves to relax just a little because we had arbitrarily decided that if we made it to 6 p.m., it probably meant the doctor’s office wouldn’t be calling. A few minutes after 6 the phone rang; when I answered, it turned out to be a wrong number. I didn’t know whether to laugh or spend the next half hour cursing at the girl on the other end of the line.

The weekend slowly came and went without a phone call. On Monday we worked until it was time to go to the doctor’s, and then we waited some more in a tiny examination room. When he came in he said, “The CT scan was clean. The blood work didn’t show any of the proteins we talked about. It’s clean. This is very good.” I had to ask him again just to be sure – did he mean that the cancer hadn’t spread? Yes, he answered, the cancer was isolated to my right testicle. My liver, my kidneys, my pancreas were OK. We cried again, this time with relief.

My surgery was planned for Wednesday, just two days later. Usually it’s considered too risky to just remove the tumor, so standard procedure is to take out the testis completely. I was no exception and my testicle was removed in what was, amazingly, an out-patient procedure. Thanks to my urologist I’m resting comfortably at home now, sore from the 3-inch incision slashing diagonally across my pelvis but getting by with Tylenol, ice packs and plenty of TLC from Sandy, my mom, and my nephew Pato (who lives with us while he goes to college). My mom flew down for the surgery as soon as it was scheduled; when I told her about the diagnosis, I could hear her starting to hyperventilate over the phone with shock. No parent wants to hear their child has cancer, even if that child is 43. Later she told me that until we started getting test results, she felt as if an elephant was sitting on her chest. “I feel like I can breathe again,” she said.

Two days ago, a Friday, I saw my doctor for a post-op follow-up and to have a drainage tube removed. The doctor said the surgery went well, and he didn’t see anything that worried him. The pathology report showed that the tumor was a classic seminoma, which is the least aggressive form of testicular cancer and the easiest to treat. He is recommending a couple of radiation treatments at a very low intensity just to make sure it’s gone, and I’ll be scheduling appointments with the radiologist in three weeks. Just a precaution, he said, because he’s sure we caught it early and that the surgery removed whatever cancer was there.

That’s fine. Whatever it takes.

It still amazes me how fast everything happened. In a little less than two weeks I’ve gone from primary diagnosis to surgery to recovery. In two weeks I’ve gone from cancer patient to cancer survivor. And I’m so grateful. Grateful for the quick response of my doctors. Grateful for the strength and love of my wife. Grateful that when we first started freelancing she insisted one of the first things we budget for was health insurance. Grateful for the support, the fierce affection, and inappropriate jokes shared with family and friends. Grateful for whatever made us decide to get a simple bump checked out instead of ignoring it.

If you take anything from this, let it be that. Pay attention to what your body tells you. Nothing that seems odd, or different, or just uncomfortable enough that you “can live with it” is worth ignoring. Don’t be completely paranoid, but don’t be afraid to be a little paranoid. See your doctor, and ask every question you have when you do.

And then, when you’ve taken care of yourself and your health, take a breath. Take a loving look at this life you’ve been given. And be grateful.

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6 Comments on “Adventures in Sound: A sigh of relief”

  1. 1 Scott S. said at 9:11 am on March 11th, 2013:

    Damn! Sorry to hear you had all that going on. Also very happy to hear you are okay and recovering…

  2. 2 Signal Watch said at 6:37 pm on March 11th, 2013:

    Man, sorry it took me so long to get to this. Just saw you mention your blog on twitter and realized it’d been a few days since I checked in. I am relieved to hear about the results, and glad all you’ll be doing now sounds like the usual routine follow-up work. Take care and be well.

  3. 3 Maxo Romero said at 9:16 pm on March 11th, 2013:

    Scott: Thanks, Scott! I’m feeling better every day, and honestly, if you have to get this kind of bad news, this is the best possible version anyone could hope for; I feel very fortunate.

  4. 4 Maxo Romero said at 9:20 pm on March 11th, 2013:

    SW: Relief is definitely the word for it. And thanks for the kind and positive words – it’s good to be reminded that we have plenty to be happy about.

  5. 5 eric said at 10:49 am on March 12th, 2013:

    oh noes dude. so sorry you a juan pelota now. you feelin better? glad you caught it early and addressed it fast.

  6. 6 Maxo Romero said at 7:01 pm on March 14th, 2013:

    Ha! “Juan Pelota” made me laugh out loud! (And, man, did I need it.)

    I’m sore, but recovering steadily — a small, small price to pay considering the exchange was catching it early and dealing with it effectively.

    Thanks for the good vibes, and your continued friendship, Eric — it means the world to me.

    When the hell are we going to get together?! It’s been way, way too long!

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