I was nearly two years out from my cancer diagnosis in late-2012, and thought I had been doing great after cancer. My diagnosis of Stage IIB non-seminoma testicular cancer at the beginning of 2011 at the age of 33 came as a shock to everyone in my family, but I powered my way through EPx4 chemotherapy and an RPLND surgery at Sloan-Kettering in New York City, and was back to life, back to reality, had started a new job immediately afterwards, and it had all almost seemed too easy. The reality was that I still had no idea what I had even been through, and unbeknownst to me, I had simply shut off my emotions for the preceding two years in order to get through all that I had, while keeping a brave face on for my family.
At the end of 2012, a few cancer fighter friends that I had made along the way started dying of their cancers or were reaching the end of their roads, which hurt me very deeply. Nothing makes cancer more real than watching friends that you had made along way starting to die, and their families torn to pieces. At the same time, I had a lot of strange things going on in my body, and thought for sure that my cancer had returned at one point and that I was going to be next. Only then did the emotional floodgates finally open, and only then did all that I had been through finally start to process. Here I was nearly two years out from my cancer diagnosis when everybody thought I ought to have been doing great, but instead I felt myself coming off the tracks like I never had before, and all I could do was brace for impact. Full blown PTSD gripped me for six solid weeks, and it was the most terrifying experience just walking out of my front door in the morning, certain that death was waiting for me right around the corner, while the rest of the world continued on as normal. I was so afraid and hurting so badly inside that I actually contemplated suicide as a means to an end, because I couldn't bear to hurt any longer, and didn't know how to make this sort of pain stop. That would have been a way, but my wife and kids both needed me. I didn't do it, but had to find a way, and only then did I finally realize just how challenging cancer survivorship can be, and only then did I understand just how deeply one can suffer not just as a cancer survivor, but as a human being.
It's not cancer that changed me as a person, it's the PTSD after cancer that I experienced off and on throughout 2013-2015 that's been the true catalyst for change and growth in my life. I threw every possible idea that I had up on the wall for overcoming these post-cancer demons, and running and writing were two things that stuck. Running gave all of this terrible freewheeling anxiety in my mind a place to go while at the same time rehabilitating my body. My mind was bleeding too, and dumping that pain into a keyboard just came naturally for me. It's through the process of writing that I finally started to understand what was going on in this crazy Scorpio mind of mine, which helped me to grow and evolve past what I was facing, and find what I truly needed in life.
After a year of writing privately throughout 2013, I shared an essay that I had written with a few close friends of mine. After much encouragement, I finally decided to release it to the public and the cancer community in April of 2014 for Testicular Cancer Awareness Month titled, "Steve Pake's Top 10 Guide to Surviving a Young Adult Cancer." This was my first ever cancer survivorship essay, and it was widely shared by cancer survivor friends of mine, including by Livestrong. I'd never seen nor imagined so many amazing comments by so many about something I had written. I was blown away and connected with so many new people from this, and it was after this time that I started blogging for the Testicular Cancer Awareness Foundation. I had connected with Kim Jones the year before, and just felt the right vibes from this organization and family, public writing about cancer just felt like the right thing for me to start doing, and I've been blogging for TCAF ever since.
In October 2015 I launched my own personal website, www.StevePake.com, which serves as a hub for all of my writing. I also started writing cancer survivorship blogs for the IHadCancer.com community, and occasionally some other cancer advocacy groups. Hard work pays off. My writing and website was awarded as a Top Cancer Blog of 2016 by IHadCancer.com, and in 2017 I've also recently taken on much more formal roles at TCAF by not just becoming a Director of the TCAF Ambassadors program of my own creation, but in joining the Board of Directors as well.
In launching the TCAF Ambassadors program, my main goal is to empower people to just get out there, and make a difference in the world for raising public awareness about testicular cancer, and to help support those facing testicular cancer in whatever way they're best able. I have a natural writing talent, and it's been amazing to see my writing connect with and do so much good for so many others in such deeply personal ways. Others are better at speaking, and might want to get into schools or public health clinics, and advocate that way. Maybe you're very personable, and connect well with people in one-on-one settings, should they desire. Or maybe you're active outdoors and love biking, hiking, or running, or can organize outings and events that local testicular cancer survivors and their families might appreciate, after having been cooped up in their homes and out of their routines for so long. The point is, there's no script here, and the sky is the limit with this program. You can do whatever you can come up with, and with the full backing of a truly wonderful non-profit organization supporting you.
Testicular cancer is nearly as common in young men as breast cancer is in young women, yet breast cancer seems to get 99% of the attention. The fact that we still have to fight so hard for any sort of public awareness at all about testicular cancer, nearly 20 years after the founding of a very famous cancer advocacy organization in yellow by a now very infamous testicular cancer survivor, is a great travesty. I want to change this, and the more people we can empower to get out there talking about testicular cancer, and the more public awareness we can raise via whatever means or methods people can come up with, the better off we'll all be, and the more lives we'll be able to save. Every woman knows about breast cancer and that they should self-exam regularly. Every man should know about testicular cancer, and should regularly self-exam just the same!
After the loss of Jordan Jones last year, I just felt this burning personal desire to avenge his untimely loss to testicular cancer in some way, and made it a life purpose and mission to do whatever I could to take TCAF to the next level. I feel that the TCAF Ambassadors program will help to do that, am very grateful for the full backing and support of the Jones family to bring this program to life. I think Jordan would be proud of all of this, and have no plans to let him down!
For Jordan and the Jones family.
Director, TCAF Ambassadors Program