On at least two occasions when I've mentioned my cancer story to new friends or acquaintances that hadn't known, I've received comments that were just short of dismissive that testicular cancer is an "easy cancer", alluding to the high cure rate. I'll be honest in saying that I haven't been offended by such comments, because I know that short of having been there in some way themselves, it's simply impossible for people to truly know what a cancer diagnosis feels like, nor all that one entails.
Regardless of the type of cancer and early or late stage, the fact is, cancer turns your life upside down. Especially as young adults, we have so much of our lives left to live, and we wonder if we'll ever be able to live our hopes and dreams at all. Cancer forever casts a dark cloud over us, and it's a difficult adjustment to make when we're supposed to be brimming with optimism about our futures. There was nothing easy about the five months of toxic treatments and brutal surgeries that I had to endure, to get through my Stage II cancer. There was also nothing easy about the excruciating nerve pain and chronic muscle fatigue and weakness issues that developed, all due to the toxicity of treatments. I also suffered a loss of my fertility from a surgery that helped to cure me, which wasn't easy either. Fighting cancer left my body permanently scarred in dozens of ways.
The real scars however, were those within. It's tough to go from thinking that you have your entire life in front of you, to wondering if you're still going to be a free person, or have a life to live at all if your next round of monthly scans don't come back clear. We want to be free, and we want to know that our bodies are rid of our cancers forever, but you never really know. The uncertainty can eat you alive inside, and mental health issues such as depression are common. The anxiety about cancer tends to worsen in the years after fighting, because we live our lives constantly watching over our shoulders. We worry about every little pain in our bodies, because once you've had cancer, every such pain could mean the possibility that our cancers are back.
I became so spooked that my cancer had returned at one point, that it opened the floodgates to all of the terrible emotions that I had kept locked away when I was fighting cancer. I began suffering from post-traumatic stress, which puts the feeling of panic inside of you as though your house were on fire, except you have nowhere to go, and no avenue of escape. My body had betrayed me in the most terrible of ways, cheating on me with death at such a young age. I was terrified of living in my own skin and body. I wanted to run away from it all, but how do you run away from your own body? You can't escape it, or could you?
I was hurting so badly inside, that I contemplated suicide as a means of escape. My wife needed me. My children needed me. My family and friends needed me. I didn't do it, but I had to find a way to end this pain, and doing that wasn't easy either.
It took the support of the cancer community, some wonderful friends and mentors whom I will love for the rest of my life, the unconditional love of my wife who has never left my side, my family, and my two totally awesome children to help pull me through such a terrible ordeal. Not one single aspect of what I've been through could ever be considered easy. Everything has been hard, and I've had to reinvent myself and my life three times over since my cancer fight ended, all from an "easy" earlier stage "good risk" cancer with a 95% cure rate. A high cure rate is wonderful, but finding my way through these past five years after cancer have been the hardest five years of my life.
There is no easy cancer.
Cross-posted at StevePake.com