“I cheated with my cancer.”
A friend of mine said that to me once, feeling that she somehow didn’t really go through cancer because hers was caught so early, with no chemo or radiation necessary.
“So the double mastectomy doesn’t count?” I asked, needling her. (Cancer patients can do this to each other.)
“Touché, Mr. Duffy.”
I have always maintained that cancer is relative. Whether you had one chemo pill and a ball removed, or you’ve been ingesting poison for years with a bowel resection and radiation scars; cancer is cancer. Those three words that no one wants to hear initiate you into a fraternity that you never wanted to join, boasting physical hazing practices that a suspended university chapter could not begin to fathom.
Let’s have you puke your life out, without the benefit of a keg. Won’t that be fun?
When I drove home that day, her words echoed in my head.
I cheated with my cancer.
They stayed with me like an ear worm that wouldn’t abate. Hour after hour, they refused to leave, and I couldn’t figure out why.
I put myself in her position. I had testicular cancer… the one that my oncologist said was “a homerun.” And sure, I had enough chemotherapy to choke a pregnant hippo, but I never had to do a single moment of radiation. In a lucky twist of fate, my chemo regimen was knocked down from three to two drugs, the omission being Bleomycin.
See: carpet bomber
I lost my hair, but kept every speck of enamel on my teeth.
I lost a ball, but because I had already met the woman who became my wife, I never had to tell a new ‘acquaintance’ before a night of sweat-soaked elbowy bliss, “Um, before you go to a land down under, there’s something you should know.”
Nor would I have to console said acquaintance for feeling mortified, repulsed, or guilty for pitying me.
I banked sperm on my second attempt, but I never had to use it. Yes, even after twenty rounds of chemo in eleven weeks, plus losing lefty, my ginger wife and I had two ginger boys, the natural way.
Seriously, in the world of testicular cancer, I hit the freaking life lottery.
Only, I didn’t.
I got cancer.
I heard the three words from my oncologist that you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. My life changed like virtually every life changes once those three words are brought into the equation. And while I didn’t have to do Bleo, I did have to take an inordinate amount of Cisplatin… voted numero uno for nausea.
And I didn’t just lose my hair. I lost my eyebrows and eyelashes. I saw death every time I looked in a mirror, and nothing really prepared me for that. Imagine having a months-long incessant reminder of your own mortality… at twenty-nine years old.
My first trip to the spank bank was an epic failure.
And no, I didn’t have to explain why my right testicle didn’t have a roommate to my fiancé, but getting back in that saddle took some work… and a threat.
About a month after the extraction, Stephanie was having her own case of blue-balls… or ball, in this case. She was more than ready to re-consummate our physical love and affection, but I was literally terrified.
Will it hurt? Will it feel awkward? Will I be able to perform? She might even think, ‘boy, if that area didn’t look weird enough before the jewel heist…’
But that wasn’t even the weirdest part. During treatment, a friend literally asked me, “So if you and she are… you know… and you… um… finish… um… you-know-where… can you give her cancer?”
“I mean, I know she can’t get testicular cancer, but because it’s biological, could it act as some sort of messed up STD?”
And stupidly, I still didn’t have an answer, as sub-moronic as the question was on the surface. It was honestly one of the lowest times in my life, even though I was NED and effectively done with my treatment.
It took an act of God and my ticked-off fiancé to break me out of my funk.
“Dan, I don’t care if it’s the worst sex ever. I don’t care if you don’t finish. If it hurts, we can stop. But I miss you and I love you and I’m getting really, really irritated with this. So get off your ass and attack me!”
Thankfully, it was not my worst performance ever. It took about two minutes to realize that it felt… exactly as lovely as it always did. And she thought I was the bravest man alive. For about a day.
(Side note: I took things into my own hand a few days prior to actually see what would happen. Everything still worked.)
I guess what I realized is that on every road with cancer, there are bumps, potholes, forks, and glorious downhills where you might as well be coasting in a Jeep in neutral, with the doors off and the wind blowing between your barefoot toes.
There are good times and bad times and silly times and depressing times. You will run the gamut of emotions, you will question everything you know, and you will make mistakes. You will also do the right thing a surprising amount of the time, considering that most of the time you’re running on instinct.
And the one thing I can definitely say is that it’s okay to be scared. It’s expected, really. And one of the best ways I know to combat your fear is to find answers to the questions that scare you.
And just to put your mind at rest, no, you can’t pass testicular cancer to your mate, though you should probably wait at least 72 hours after chemo to have sex.
Or so I’ve read.
Dan Duffy is a husband, dad, video producer, blogger, and accidental activist. A survivor of stage three testicular cancer, Dan has spent the better part of a decade sharing his experience with others, and encouraging patients, survivors, and caregivers to share their stories. His organization, The Half Fund, is a not-for-profit mission dedicated to lifting the veil on cancer through films and music and books.
The first project for the Half Fund is The Half Book: He’s Taking His Ball and Going Home, Dan’s own humorous, poignant, and abjectly real immersion into his own cancer story. It is currently available on Amazon in both print and e-book versions.