Many things can happen in five years. Five years ago I was diagnosed with Stage IIIa testicular cancer. And on my official remission date, I’d like to share my story with you.
I’m dedicating this post to my wife, she creates the best for everyone in her life. KJ, I’m eternally grateful for you. You were my light during this journey. I’m not sure I would have made it in one piece without you!
My wife is amazing at getting things done, which balances my procrastination well. I had an ache in my groin area and hadn't thought much about it. We had done a pretty long bike ride a couple weeks before, and this is a case where internet diagnoses didn’t paint the worst possible picture. I had read an article that bike riding and groin injuries are common.
Well, it didn’t go away and a few days later KJ bugged me enough, so I finally went to get it checked out. After a brief diagnoses the doctor was alarmed and mentioned that he had a urologist friend a few floors down. I went to see him immediately. The urologist, who, I kid you not, was called Dr. Duong, was about to leave to go home but made some time to check me out. After a quick check, the doctor sent me to get an ultrasound. Luckily there was a Sutter Health right across the street and we got an ultrasound scheduled for later that evening.
Well, the next few hours were the proverbial hurricane. The ultrasound came back as positive for bi-lateral tumors. On my way to getting my blood drawn, I called my wife, who was my girlfriend at the time. Now this is where memory is such a funny thing, I don't recall exactly what we talked about, but needless to say, emotions were running high.
The first weekend
Dr. Duong wanted to move quickly. Testicular cancer is very fast moving and can travel up the lymphatic pathways to the brain in short order. We didn’t want to jump right into surgery as KJ and I had a lot of questions. Feeling completely out of our league, it was time to fall into the help of my family and friends. An amazing support group, from our parents to my co-worker Evan's family friend, helped us think through our choices. The operation had many implications to our future together, it was impossible comprehend he full extent. Kids? Not from my genetic material. Testosterone therapy? Yup, for the rest of my life.
After my death pebbles were out, the final diagnoses came in. The cancer had metastasized, and I would need to go through chemo. I got a referral to an oncologist and we continued with our journey. Let me tell you, it's not a referral you ever want.
Post Survey, Pre Chemo, a trip to Tahoe
We had a yearly family trip to Tahoe with KJ’s family scheduled. After my surgery, I hadn’t seen my parents yet, so we invited them up to Tahoe and away we went. How was I feeling? Purgatory probably describes it best, knowing that the tumor was out, but that the cancer metastasized. This purgatory is designed to to let your body strengthen so it can handle the chemical load.
As a kid I was frightened at the prospect of being bald as every male in my family was bald. But since chemo causes your hair to fall out, we figured it to shorten it up. A few glasses of wine in and the clippers came out. My mom had the honors of buzzing my hair and while the $20 CVS clippers almost died along the way, we triumphed!
Chemo, my drug of choice
Testicular cancer is usually treated with the BEP protocol. While it’s a relatively short protocol, 3 months in duration, it makes up for it in intensity. My treatments were one week of 8a-5p chemo infusion and then one week off for your body to recover.
The BEP protocol is bleomycin, etoposide, and cisplatin. Wow that’s a mouthful. The whole goal of chemo is to stop “fast growth cells” like tumors, and coincidentally hair, nails and white blood cells. You may wonder how it works, it’s actually pretty fascinating. The main action is to unwind your RNA to an extent that cell replication falters. Then, start attacking the tumor with a heavy metal (platinum) which kills it. Slow replicating cells like red and white blood cells keep working, but fast replicating cells, like cancer, just die off. So this is the chemo dance. Kill parts of your body in measured ways so that the medicine can elimate the cancerous cells, before you kill all the good things that are in your body!
Every day you get your blood taken, if your white or red blood cells are too low, then that means your body is too weak and chemo could literally kill you.
So what’s it actually like? Well, these days they load you up with great anti-nauseous medicine and steroids so it’s bearable. I’d liken it to a 3 month hang over, except without the fun drinking part. Food does start to taste crappy, pretty much like concrete, causing some significant weight loss, I dropped about 40 pounds. The weirdest part is one day you’ll be in the shower and your hair will start to fall out.
What about work? The BookFresh Story
I was CTO of a company, BookFresh. It was an exciting time for BF, we were growing at close to 8% MoM and the team was executing well. On the chemo off-weeks, I tried to goto work, usually it was fine. Thankfully the team was strong and took on a lot while I was out.
There was some partnership interest from a company called Square. At one point during chemo, we had to give a product demo. I vividly remember the demo was just a few days after I had noticed my hair starting to fall out in the shower. I remember thinking, well I hope it doesn’t look too weird for our meeting! I made a small mental note not to rub my head during the demo.
The demo’s must have gone well, because 4 months after chemo was finished, we were acquired by Square and my Square journey began (I’m still there!).
What's life like after Chemo?
Chemo changes you in subtle and strange ways. It's different for everyone, but I had some neurological changes that emerged. First came the neoropathy in my extremities, the toes caused some challenges walking. Luckily those nerves grew back and symptoms have largely gone away!
One thing that persisted is tinnitus, a ringing in the ears. It's pretty annoying and almost always there. Meditation and awareness has helped fade the effects into the background.
Friends and Family
So how did I make it through? KJ made the world wonderful. Everything from working with doctors, going with me to every appointment, to getting me treats during the long days of treatment.
The amazing support from my parents and friends was truly heartwarming. During the treatment I got a table full of cards and clever gifts. After chemo, KJ organized a get together with all my friends from all over the world to come to SF. We celebrated in our true fashion with a trek to the Treasure Island Music Festival. It's something I'll remember forever.
Thank you for reading, onward!