Working as a clinical pharmacist in hospitals for over a decade I knew how important timing was when it came to providing care. Minutes were important when preparing a clot-busting drug to treat a stroke victim. Seconds were counted waiting until it was time to give the next shot of adrenaline to try to restart a patient’s heart during a cardiac arrest. However, in October 2005 when I felt a lump on my left testicle, urgency ceased to exist.
I immediately “knew” I had cancer but instead of rushing to the doctor I delayed. Weeks later I traveled to my hometown for the Thanksgiving holiday and threw my own “going away” party. I figured in time people would learn that I had cancer, that I was dying and that my party was an attempt to see as many of my old friends as I could before I died.
I didn’t mention to anyone that I had a lump until 7 months later when I finally went to the doctor. During those months I not only convinced myself that I was going to die but I made peace with the verdict. To say it was a period of emotional turmoil would be a massive understatement.
As the diagnostic process started I suddenly went from being a medical professional, a caregiver, to being a patient and the patient side of the bedrail was unfamiliar to me. When I finally mentioned to others that I had cancer I received a tremendous amount of support from friends and family but I also realized that I now needed to be my own caregiver. In becoming my own caregiver I became a self-advocate. I learned as much as I could about testicular cancer. I spoke to other survivors and learned of their needs so that I could prepare for facing those challenges myself.
Caring for myself wasn’t a Monday through Friday day time job, it was 24 hours a day. I never knew what might tip my emotional balance to hysterical laughing, to anger, to disregard for myself or to tears and I never knew when those triggers would come.
Not long after diagnosis I turned that self-advocacy and self-caregiving experience into helping others. In 2008, I formed the Testicular Cancer Society as I knew my medical background and survivor experience was a unique combination that could be used to help others.
When I founded the organization I knew I was accepting major responsibilities but, then again, when the phone rang or an email came across it wouldn’t be a medical emergency. After all, no one dies in minutes or hours or a day because of testicular cancer. But, what I’ve learned is that those contacts are emergencies.
For those that know me and have wondered, I thought I would share….
When I took that phone call at 11:45 on Friday night as we were sitting by the pool? That was a 15-year old boy who felt a lump and didn’t know how to tell his parents. I know the call took a while but that is because with his broken English and my horrific Spanish it took a while to convince him to talk to his dad.
When I was responding to emails at 1 a.m.? That was a woman 14 time zones away who was trying to understand her husband’s no-so-nice behaviour towards her as he was facing his second diagnosis.
When I left the dinner table at 9:15 at night? That was a 13-year old boy who had called because his parents had just stepped out of the house. He had felt a lump but despite telling his parents they refused to take him to the doctor and he didn’t know where to turn.
When I was standing out in the rain for 30 minutes? That was a mom, who had lost her son to testicular cancer, and called crying from her son’s grave on what would have been his birthday.
When I was sitting outside the bar during happy hour? That was a young man with gender identity disorder who was about to cut his own testicles off but called us to see if perhaps we would pay for his surgery instead. I know it took a while but during our calls back and forth I was able to find him some help and his desire to hurt himself subsided by our last conversation.
I must confess. I am a 24-hour caregiver. I’m not perfect. I may sleep through a call or not get to every email as soon as I receive them. However, I do my best to be available because I never know when it might be someone else’s emergency. That one moment when they finally let down their guard and decide to talk about their disease or their last moment of despair before they could end up making devastating decisions.
For seven months I was no one to myself, but in becoming my own caregiver I’m now able to be there 24-hours a day for others who might need one.
Mike Craycraft is a clinical pharmacist, testicular cancer survivor, and founder of the Testicular Cancer Society. He attended Xavier University and then graduated with a B.S. in Pharmacy from the University of Cincinnati. He is a Mentor Angel with Imerman Angels, a 4th Angel Mentor with The Scott Hamilton CARES Initiative at the Cleveland Clinic, and a Survivor Mentor for myCancerConnection at MD Anderson Cancer Center. He is a Research and Community Outreach Fellow for the Men’s Health Initiative, serves on the Advisory Board for Camp Kesem at Ohio State University and volunteers for bone marrow registry drives with Love Hope Strength. As a Huffington Post blogger he contributes on issues relating to adolescent and young adult oncology.