Ambassador Bio: Carl Russell

Hi, I am Carl Russell.   I am 48 years old and a lifelong resident of the Great State of Texas.   I am a son, brother, spouse and father to my family.  I am a military veteran with 8 years active duty in the U.S. Army, of which 9 months was spent in Southwest Asia to support Operation Desert Shield, Storm and Provide Comfort.  I have lived a great life, but nothing prepared me for the day I was diagnosed with Testicular Cancer.

Just after midnight on April 13, 2014, I was awaken by an acute pain just under the ribcage.   Being an EMT, I knew right away it must be a gallbladder attack.  I had seen them before so the signs and symptoms were “spot on”.  After two hours of pain, I told my wife that I needed to go to the ER.   My pain level was between a 7-10 plus.   After I was admitted to the ER, various tests and other things were conducted.  An MRI was done and confirmed I had large gallstones but they were not obstructing the gallbladder.   After several doses of pain medication, the ER doctor felt something was wrong and ordered a CT scan.   When the results were shared with me, he stated that yes my gallbladder was indeed infected, but that I had several enlarged lymph nodes in the retroperitoneal area (mid section) that should be reviewed with an oncologist.   I then met with a general oncologist who shared with me that I would be admitted and a biopsy conducted the next day.  

After the biopsy, I was sent home and told I would hear the results in 7-10 days.   The wait to get the results was the worst.  The rollercoaster of emotions extended the entire spectrum, from calm to hysteria.   I knew it was cancer, but did not know what type.  Well, when I got the pathology report in the mail, it was hard to read them.  The results read all the potential cancers it could be, but due to Immunohistochemical it was determined to be seminoma testicular cancer.   At this point, my life changed forever.   I set up my follow up appointments for April 25th , and was immediately fast tracked to an appointment with a oncologist who deals with TC, as well as a local urologist.   Monday, April 29th, I had a radical orchiectomy of the left testicle.   After careful consultation with my oncologist, urologist and family I made the decision to get a second opinion with an TC specialist at MD Anderson prior to chemotherapy.    I wanted to be sure that I had the best treatment plan available to give me the best chances of survival.

Travelling to MD Anderson proved to be the best decision I made.   Dr. Pagliaro was great to work with.   He was honest, straightforward, and really helped me understand more about testicular cancer.   He dictated my treatment (4 x EP) and that he would check up on me during the process.  I remember him telling me that he was pretty confident about it being seminoma, but their was a small chance it would be non-seminoma or mixed germ cell.   The only way to tell would be to see how the lymph nodes responded to the chemotherapy.

In early June 2014, I began my first round of chemotherapy.   After the first week in the infusion clinic, I felt pretty good.  I felt like this was nothing.  HA HA, it would not be that way the first Sunday morning.   It hit me like a brick wall.   The pain and weakness I felt was like nothing I had every experience.  In late June, I had to be admitted back into the hospital because my white blood cell counts were dangerously low.   Also, through the grace of God they finally decided to remove my gallbladder as well before the next round of chemo.   I found out how effective Neupogen and Neulasta  shots were to increasing my ability to recover.   The pain created in the hips and femur, while manageable, is something I will never forget.   Each week it was like running another marathon.  By the end of the fourth round, by body was beaten down. 

My employer  was very supportive and allowed me to continue to work throughout this whole process as much as I could tolerate.   I am thankful I did this because according to my primary oncologist, this is probably what helped me recovery quicker.  I believe by staying as close to my normal routine as possible helped me to stay positive and focused on the task of recovery and survival.   I also relied on “Team Carl”.  They were my rock, as was my family. 

TCAF means the world to me.   Every chance I get I try and educate men to check themselves regularly.   One personal goal as a TCAF Ambassador is to bring that awareness if whatever forum will listen.   I will be bringing the message to my Remote Control Car racing league.   I plan on looking on expanding this to health fairs and other venues.   The story of Jordan Jones really inspires me to keep his and their entire family’s dream alive.  We can save lives by early detection and getting the appropriate treatment.  Awareness is the key. 

Carl Russell
TCAF Ambassador