Preface: The bulk of this piece was written on a cell phone in March of 2017 while recovering from having my right testicle removed due to the presence of a tumor.
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March 20, 2017
I’m so bored. Why? As of just a few hours ago, I had my right testicle removed in what is called a “right radical orchiectomy.” I’m now in bed at home, writing this one my phone. Expect edits as the days, weeks, and month’s progress, but for now, this has been my experience.
So, how did I get in this mess?
Let’s go back a few years ago. I was just coming off of a pretty painful divorce and found myself in my own head a lot — and not so much in the best way. I didn’t know this at the time, but my emotional barometer for stress are my kishkes (“kish-kuz” — Yiddish for “guts”). Even if I thought I was handling stress ok, my digestive system was the true indicator. After a sharp pain in my side that I mistook for appendicitis (went to the ER and everything), this was starting to become clear. Still, because I had no idea what was happening to my body, I really assumed the worst. I thought, “I definitely have cancer or something” and began Googling all kinds of symptoms. This lead to being hyperaware of every quirk of my body and eventually a meeting with my doctor.
One thing I had been reading up on was testicular cancer, which was/is not uncommon in men between the ages of about 17–35ish. (I had actually first heard the most about testicular cancer thanks to a catchy music video entitled “Do Your Testicles Feel Ok?” — little did I know, that tune may have saved my life.) In checking myself almost weekly (don’t do it that often — this only makes them even sorer and you’ll soon freak yourself out), I noticed that my right testicle was significantly smaller than my left one. And I mean, almost half the size. I asked my primary care physician about this oddity. He did an examination, but also said, “Yeah, that’s normal. Some guys barely have a second testicle.” Ok, cool — good to know.
Fast forward almost 3 years into the future. I’m remarried to an amazing young lady and am really not exhibiting any health issues, still checking my testicles routinely and notice something odd — my once-borderline-micro-testicle on the right is now about the same size as the left testicle. Still, there’s no lumps or oddities to it, it’s just bigger and more firm when squeezed a bit. It didn’t hurt and only felt a little annoyingly heavy when I was trying to lay on my side, etc. So, I showed it to my primary care doctor again.
“You know, it doesn’t seem that weird, but because you said that it used to be much smaller, I’m writing you a referral for a sonogram. No big deal — I had one myself 4 years ago. It’s just better to be safe than sorry.”
So, about a week later, I went to the hospital to have a guy that looked just like Bulldog Brisco from Fraiser put cold lubricant on my testicles and take some pictures of the inside from the outside. “Bulldog” seemed very serious about this work, but it took maybe 5–10 minutes.
Later that day, I got a call from my primary care physician. “Hey, just saw your sonogram. It looks like you have a pretty significant growth in your right testicle. Could be cancer. Fortunately, this is extremely treatable and you have another testicle that can fill in. I’ll have a urologist give you a call.”
At this point, I was pretty shaken up. It’s not every day that a doctor calls you up and tells you that you might have CANCER. (CANCER. CANCER. CANCER — this all that my hypochondriac self could hear in my head.) My kishkes were wrung so tight, I nearly had an accident in my pants. Nerves were abundant. I also didn’t care to do a Google search of “Testicular Cancer” because my past freak outs had scared me away from any such research. If I had, I probably would have found out just how treatable Testicular Cancer is.
My wife had actually forgotten her phone at home, so I couldn’t even call her to tell her till that evening. When I met up with her at Target, I was white with fear. She said I was acting in a way that she had never seen.
I had an appointment with the urologist the next afternoon. Upon walking in the room, he had a pretty sour look on his face, as though he was channeling what the inside of my testicle looked like.
“Your scan…it doesn’t look very good. Are you in any pain right now?”
“Not really, no. It’s just kind of heavy.”
The sour look in his face faded into surprise. He seemed to have been of the impression that I had first reached out to my doctor from a place of pain — mainly because of the fairly normal appearance of the exterior of the testicle. They really did almost look like two twin testicles.
He told me that it appeared that the growth was forming from the center and seemed to be completely contained within the testicle. He went on to say that when such is the case, the best thing to do is to simply remove the testicle.
“If we biopsied the growth, it may expose potential cancer cells to the bloodstream and getting through the testicle in order do so would pretty much destroy it anyway.”
He did say that they still weren’t sure if it was cancer, a cyst, or even a small infection in the testicle that made necrotic tissue begin to collect. It would require the results of a biopsy of the removed testicle to know what they were dealing with. The results of the biopsy wouldn’t be available for a week following the surgery.
He explained that the procedure was a pretty straightforward out-patient surgery in which an incision would be made on my lower abdomen almost in the same place as a hernia operation. Then, through the incision, the testicle and all connected tissue would be pulled up and out. All in all, it would be about a 30– 45-minute procedure. As he continued, I imagined this happening sometime later that month.
“How’s Monday sound?” It was presently Thursday afternoon. Before I knew it, I was booked to go into surgery.
I have to admit — knowing that something was going to happen with the growth in my testicle did take some weight off of my mind. I could finally start to laugh about it just a bit.
The next day, Friday, before the Monday morning surgery, I needed to undergo some pre-operation tests. Most of them were asking about medications I didn’t take and conditions I didn’t have. They took a vial of blood and I was released…until they called me to return because they needed some more. I panicked for a split second, thinking maybe they had missed something consequential (did I mention somewhat of a hypochondriac?), but it just turned out that the nurse hadn’t read the order correctly and was extremely apologetic.
Monday morning, 6:10 am, my wife, father, and I hopped in his car and arrived at the St. John’s Hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Check-in was at 6:15 am for an 8:15 am surgery. To prepare myself spiritually, I brought along a Breslov hasidic siddur (a Jewish prayer book, “Book of Complete Salvations”), which Charria said, “You realize that by bringing a book this large, you’re ensuring that you won’t have time to read/pray a single page?” She was right — about 2 minutes after we sat down, we were called for surgical admission.
As I got into my backless gown, even though my mind was steady without too many nerves, my kishkes knew what was up. On two separate occasions, I had to force everyone out so I could tell my guts to pipe down.
Wonderful nurses assisted and complained about the computer system being down. Four or five different nurses seemed to float in to ask this, adjust that, and ask me my name and birthday every time to make sure they were cutting on the right guy.
As coordinated before, my rabbi called my wife to offer misheberach (prayers for healing) and then to assign prayers for my wife and father to recite while I was in surgery. (I bet they didn’t know they were getting homework).
Finally, later, the urologist rolled in, scrubbed up, ready to put my father and wife’s mind at ease. He pulled out a marker and scribbled something on my right arm as he said, “just to make sure we take out correct one!” with a chuckle. As I was rolled out, my wife gave me a kiss and held my face for a moment. Shortly after that, I was rolled out by a surgical nurse. On the way to the operating room, someone stopped her to ask her opinion on someone’s resume. “I’m kind of busy!” she said as she rolled me into the chilly operating room.
Because I didn’t have my glasses on, the operating room looked to me like the all-white TV studio from Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory. A Hispanic man in scrubs grabbed my hand and said, “My name is Willie. I’ll be in here with you today.” I had no idea what he meant, but it made me feel better anyway.
They rolled my bed to a bed into the center of the operating room. Huge lights hung like massive sunflowers and I just imagined everything that had probably taken place in this room in the past. Someone then placed an oxygen mask on my face and asked me to take heaping deep breaths. “Make that chest touch the ceiling…”
Suddenly, I had a micro dream of a child riding a red tricycle before I heard someone say, “There he is.” This voice had no face but seemed to come from a technician who was doing various tasks. I had no idea who he was or what he was doing. Still, the lingering anesthesia made me feel like I had met him before, but I couldn’t point him out in a lineup if you asked me to.
The man made some comment about my crotch behind sore. I told him about how, in skateboarding, the term for when someone accidentally lands with their skateboard vertical, with one end of the board into the ground and one end between their legs, its called a “credit card.” He found this to be very funny. He then gave me a bag of ice, a glass of water, and my bed was wheeled into a recovery room.
As the anesthesia wore off, the pain became more distinct. Being wheeled into my recovery room, I winced in pain. The nurse gave me some kind of pain medication, but it took a very long time to kick in. I faded in and out of sleep for a time, all the while nurses were telling us that we needed to leave as soon as I could stand— that they needed the room. I remember telling them that I wasn’t going anywhere till the pain meds had kicked in, which seemed to be taking their sweet time.
After some difficulty getting changed back into my clothes and into a wheelchair (bending at the waist became very painful), I was brought back to my dad’s car and brought home with the seat fully reclined.
I am optimistic about my recovery.
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That portion before the line above was immediately after surgery in March of 2017. It’s now December 2018. I just came across everything written up until this point on my Medium account. I barely remember writing this on my phone as I was probably on a decent amount of painkillers. My recovery only really took about a week — which was plagued more with hypochondria-fueled calls to my urologist’s nurse every time I felt warm (which I had read was the first symptom of an infection, though she told me I had virtually no risk of this). Walking actually felt fine, but I had pretty intense pain anytime I would bend at the waist or when I would cough, laugh, or ::ahem:: push ::ahem on the toilet. Thank goodness for prune juice.
The boredom seemed to be the worst part, as I was too tired to stay focused on a movie or a book, but not tired enough to sleep. Due to pain medication, I would nap during the day and during the night, I would lay awake, thoughts racing. Because the biopsy results were still out, I didn’t know what had been growing inside of me. Was it cancer? Had it spread? How long do I have left? A scene kept playing out in my mind of my widowed wife feeding my cat—a stray I had befriended years before my wife and I were ever dating. This cat and bittersweet memories are all I would leave her. To say that my mind was in a weird place is an understatement.
After about a week, I was back to work and after a month, I was back to my old self.
One week after surgery, I went back to urologist’s office to hear about the test results from the tumor biopsy. He basically said it was a bad news / good news situation. Bad news: yes, the tumor tested positive for cancer — classic seminoma, to be exact. Good news: He said, “If I had to have cancer, this is the type of cancer I’d want to have.” Evidently, seminoma is not aggressive at all and the tumor had not penetrated the outer layer of the testicle. There also was no sign of spread within the spermatic cord, which is basically how the testicle attaches to the rest of the body. Secondary tests were to follow: a CT scan of my lower abdomen and a chest x-ray — both meant as surveillance measures to see if the cancer had spread anywhere else in my body. Both of those scans didn’t pick anything up, though there was a nodule on one of my lungs — even though lung nodules can be as benign as moles on the skin. After a few CT scans of my entire abdomen over the next few months, there were even signs of the nodule shrinking, so it was ruled to not be anything to worry about.
As I write this, I’m still in remission from testicular cancer with no signs of cancer in my system ever since my right testicle was removed. I continue to have blood tests every 6 months or so with CT scans of my abdomen about every year for possibly the next 5–10 years. I qualified for financial assistance from the hospital where I receive my CT scans that will pay for any related expenses not covered by my insurance plan, which is about $2,200 per scan. For anyone undergoing any costly medical care from a hospital, I’d highly recommend applying for financial assistance with the hospital, even if you don’t think you qualify. I didn’t think I would, as my income was above the usual maximum, but I qualified anyways.
In more positive news, also since this piece was first drafted, my wife and I now have a 6-month son, Amir. This just goes to show of the redundancy of the human design. We had no issues conceiving and our bundle of joy is as healthy as a baby can be. I thank God for this miracle.
Shortly after my surgery in March of 2017, I’ve worked to raise money for Testicular Cancer awareness as well as established the #TakeA2nd4theboys initiative — just a simple website that allows someone to automatically add a monthly reminder to their Google calendar to check their testicles on the 2nd of every month for any abnormalities as well as instructions on how to do so.
I feel extremely blessed to have been the immediate beneficiary of testicular cancer awareness — an awareness that inspired me to speak to my doctor at the first sign of funny business. Catching my cancer early and actually bringing it up to my doctor at the first sign of trouble likely saved me from requiring any chemo or radiation therapy.
Even though Testicular Cancer is one of the most easily treatable, if not curable forms of cancer, men are still dying from this disease. An alarming number of these men are teenagers. Too embarrassed to seek help at the first signs that something may be wrong, the cancer is allowed to grow and spread throughout their bodies. It’s my prayer that more young men do not feel ashamed of their physical conditions and get the help they need.