As I sat waiting for my first appointment with oncologist Dr. Kent Hoskins, I couldn’t help but stare at the other patients in the room. “I don’t belong here,” I thought. The second in a four-part series on Paul Arco's memories of testicular cancer.
As I sat waiting for my first appointment with oncologist Dr. Kent Hoskins, I couldn’t help but stare at the other patients in the room.
I saw long faces, mostly 20 to 30 years older than mine, etched with worry, frustration and sadness.
“I don’t belong here,” I thought.
But my primary-care doctor had told me four days earlier, on Jan. 24, 2008, that I had Stage 2 testicular cancer, involving a hard lump in my right testicle and a softball-sized mass in my abdominal cavity.
I was still in shock. I wanted my life back.
If there was a glimmer of hope in the faces of those other patients, I wasn’t seeing it.
But Glenda Gottfred, a nurse at the Center for Cancer Care at OSF Saint Anthony Medical Center, sees it all the time.
A nurse for 24 years, Gottfred has spent the past five working with oncology patients. “They have a different outlook on life,” she said. “They value every conversation, every relationship they have.
“Cancer totally changes your life. If you have gallbladder surgery, you’re sick for a while, you get better, and you don’t think about it again. With cancer, it’s always with you. It’s a journey that never stops. It has its highs and lows. Once you’re in remission, and the cancer is gone, you’re in that high. But you never know if it’s totally gone, at least in your mind.”
I hate cancer.
In 1994, I had a front-row seat as my mother lost her battle to colon cancer after a seven-year fight.
Mom, who worked so hard and so passionately as a pediatric nurse for 40 years, was robbed of a long retirement, of time spent playing with grandchildren she would never meet, because of this evil disease.
I knew others who had died at the hands of this monster as well. Two of my friends, both in their 30s, lost the battle. They were wives and mothers to young children. Cancer didn’t care.
Was I cancer’s next victim?
I had a germ-cell nonseminoma known as embryonal, one of the most aggressive forms of testicular cancer, but I felt comfortable with Dr. Hoskins, who was in charge of my overall care.
He and Dr. Michael Fumo, a urologist who would handle most of my surgeries, would craft my recovery.
After my consultation with Dr. Hoskins, things started to happen fast. Four days later, on Feb. 1, Dr. Fumo removed my cancerous testicle.
Now, it was time to tackle the mass in my abdominal cavity. A PICC line — a long, flexible tube inserted into a peripheral vein to administer chemo and obtain blood specimens — was inserted into my left arm to keep me from repeatedly being poked with needles.
And because the mass was pushing against my kidney, Dr. Fumo performed surgery to insert a thin tube into my ureter to prevent obstruction of urine flow. He would perform the same surgery three more times over the next year.
I was now ready for three months of chemotherapy to try to reduce the mass.
Outpatient chemo treatment started Feb. 18. One round consisted of six-hour treatments Monday through Friday, Saturday and Sunday off and two more hours of treatment the next Monday.
I would have the rest of the week to recover and go back to work before starting the next round the next week.
Chemo had become a second full-time job.
I had planned to read books, write in a journal and listen to my iPod during treatments. Instead, I just stared toward the nurses’ station, watching other patients drag their IV poles past my room.
The chemo pump churned and beeped.
The next three months couldn’t go by fast enough.
Chemo has a cumulative affect. The further along in treatment you are, the harder it is for your body to recover. I felt OK during the first couple of rounds. By the third, however, I was spent.
Thanks to antinausea medicine, I got sick just three times in the four rounds of treatment, but I was always tired and weak.
Food tasted like tin foil. I lost 25 pounds.
And when my hair started falling out in clumps, I decided to shave my head. I was self-conscious about being bald, but family and friends were supportive. Still, I wore a baseball cap whenever I left the house.
To make matters worse, another CT scan revealed that the mass wasn’t shrinking. Here I was, putting my body and my mind through the rigors of chemo day after day, and it wasn’t even touching the mass.
I was ticked.
On the morning of my last treatment, I was lying on my bedroom floor at home, physically and emotionally wiped. I wouldn’t have gone in that day, but a nurse from the cancer center called me twice, offering encouraging words. So I went.
The nurses treated me to a salsa dance to celebrate my last day of chemo hell.
But the party was far from over. I still needed surgery to remove the mass that had decided to make my body its home. I had done research and talked to another testicular cancer survivor, who was treated successfully at the Indiana University Hospital in Indianapolis.
Dr. Hoskins also recommended Indiana University, and it’s also where Lance Armstrong was treated for his testicular cancer a decade ago.
It was decided. That was my next move.
Tomorrow: A scare following post-chemo surgery
Paul Anthony Arco, 41, works full-time for the Rockford Park District as the annual fund director. He has been a part-time writer for the Rockford Register Star for nearly 20 years, writing about high school sports, as well as arts and entertainment.
About this series
Paul Anthony Arco found out shortly after his 40th birthday that he had Stage 2 testicular cancer. In a four-part series, Arco looks back at how the diagnosis changed him and his life.
Part 1: Pain in side turns out to be cancer
They say turning 40 is no big deal. Well, for me, it was. Three months after reaching the milestone birthday, I received news no one wants to hear. Cancer. Stage 2 testicular cancer.