I immediately knew something was wrong. The clock, as my blurry vision cleared, read two hours later than I was told my operation would last.
But that wasn’t it, completely.
It was the attitude of the nurses and staff around me that told my gut – something was up.
Oh yes, there was a lot of pain in my groin area. But, I expected that! After all, my surgery was on my testicles. Well, at least one of them.
It’s just that the nurses were acting with a degree of sadness.
Certainly a sense of secrecy.
When I asked, “What happened?” The matronly nurse, with that mole on her cheek, looked worried and said, “You’ll have to wait for the doctor.”
Oh, oh! It must really be bad news, I thought.
This was supposed to be a relatively simple surgery. Nevertheless, it was one that I dreaded even considering for several years. In my heart, I knew something was bad, but I was afraid to really find out what was wrong. I guess I was just a coward at heart. You know, some things you’re just better off not knowing. At least, that was the way I felt about it.
I recall telling my mother about it a few years before, once I overcame being embarrassed to talk about it to her. Well, that was a mistake! She continued to nag me about it every time, after that, when I called her. I guess you should expect that, when you tell your mother that one testicle is larger than the other one and that you sometimes get pain there. Whenever we talked on the phone, after that (she in Minnesota and I in New York), she’d always asked, “Have you had a doctor check that out yet?”
So, I finally did.
That visit went well, if you don’t mind a doctor and his nurse poking around down there, and even shining a light through the scrotum.
“Hold that light a little closer Stacy”.
He determined that I needed an operation called a Hydrocele Surgery. You see, there is a protective layer of membrane around the testicle that sometimes fills with liquid, causing swelling and pain. The solution is to simply remove that membrane. No big deal, been done a thousand times. It’s quick and easy. Of course, that testicle is out of commission then, but the other one will work just fine. Well OK, I agreed to go ahead with it.
So, now I lay on a gurney in the Intensive Care unit of Stony Brook Hospital wondering what happened.
The doctor finally came in.
He said that, while he was in there, he found and biopsied some unusual tissue around that area. Amazingly, he said that he almost removed both my testicles, right then and there. However, since I was still a fairly young man, he decided to wait for the lab results. Based on the pain I was having there, I wasn’t too sure that he wasn’t lying to me. Still, I mustered up a smile and thanked him for being so conservative.
When the lab results finally did come in, they carried some words that I didn’t understand – Testicular Mesothelioma. Turns out, that means testicular cancer, a very rare and particularly aggressive strain where patients typically don’t last more than a year, and often less than 4 months. It’s also very rare, only about 14 people had been diagnosed with it in the last 20 years, world-wide.
My surgeon said that, in my case, I likely had less than six months to live. However, there was a new and rather radical surgery. With it, I might it get two more years, but there were no guarantees. The mortality rate of my disease was 100% and very rapid, but with the surgery, it was reduced to 90% after the surgery. I might live a bit longer. It involved removing both my testicles, cleaning out any cancerous cells in the groin cavity (including the wall lining between that area and the stomach, and replacing it with a mesh), plus removing all my lymph glands, located under my arms and down my legs near the groin. That was in November 1992. I told him to go ahead and schedule it. I felt I didn’t have much choice. It was either, go home and die very soon, or let them butcher me up and get a little more time.
I was send home, while they set it up.. I started to plan my own funeral.
During that time, two significant things happened.
First of all, my older brother, Chuck, was expressing serious concerns. He felt that I shouldn’t undergo such serious surgery without at least getting a second opinion. Furthermore, he thought that if I was going to have such radical surgery, it should be from one of the best surgeons possible. New York has some of the best surgeons in the world, so why should I leave it to an unknown surgeon at Stony Brook when I wasn’t far from major medical centers. Soon, I was being deluged with emails from him with information all about my disease. He also researched where the best cancer treatment organizations in New York were located. He recommended the Sloane-Kettering Institute in downtown Manhattan. He called me every week. We hadn’t been close for years, and often argued about politics and religion, when we did get together. So, this was unusual behavior.
Ok, he had some good points.
So, I went to Stony Brook and had them release my medical records, CAT scans, and the biopsy samples to me personally, and hand carried them to Sloane-Kettering where my brother had arranged for them to be reviewed.
The doctors there were very excited about my case because my diagnosis was very rare. One of their top surgeons was very interested. In fact, he was willing to perform the operation on me for free, if I would allow him to try out his new technique and let it be closed-circuit televised to a group of renowned surgeons located around the world. I’d become a famous case within the medical journals.
Of course, I was interested, if only to save my wife some very large medical expenses, and maybe, this guy might actually cure me. At that time, I considered it to definitely be worth the gamble. So, I scheduled it with them to perform it there on the first Wednesday in February, 1993.
The second thing going on came from an unexpected source – my boss. He was a very religious man, practically a saint. He was the Director of Procurement at the Unisys/Loral/ Paramax/Lock Heed Martin facility (our division had been bought and sold several times while I worked there) located in Great Neck, New York. He belonged to a Charismatic Evangelical church on Long Island named The Smithtown Gospel Tabernacle. They believe in the power of prayer, and the ability of the congregation to heal by “the laying on of hands.”
His name was Joe. He came to my house one evening. I had been out of work on medical leave for two months by then. I has gotten get well cards from various groups of people at facilities I had worked in before: Eagan, Minnesota; Pueblo, Colorado; and Great Neck New York. It was just past New Year’s Eve when he came. Even so, my testicles were swollen up like bricks and were still black and blue. I could barely walk, and I was depressed. We talked. He prayed with me. Then, he put his hands on my head as I knelt , and asked God to send us a miracle – to heal me. Amazingly, I felt something move within me. It was like something shifted, and a very small bit of electricity was going through me. That was it.
I’m a bit skeptical, but I thanked him and sent him on his way. The next day the swelling had gone down and I was feeling better. Still, I’ll admit, I didn’t think much about it after that. I attributed it to normal healing.
In the meantime, my February operation date was rapidly approaching. I became consumed with thoughts of impending death. I decided that, whether it was this year or the next, when I died, it would be with dignity. I would make the best of it. I would be the best possible example that I could be, for my family, and children, just like my Uncle before me had been to me. You see, I had a favorite uncle. We called him Uncle Lee. He was more of an example to me of how a man should live, than my own father. He died in 1987 of prostate cancer. My mother moved down to Tucson, Arizona, to live with him and his wife while he was very ill and dying. My sister even held her wedding there, so that he could give her away, since my dad had already died. He laid there in his hospital bed, dressed in a tuxedo, and beamed from ear to ear as the ceremony took place. He planned every detail of his funeral mass too, even picking the songs and having the church choir come over to his house to sing them with him. He died in the arms of his sister, my mother, with his wife and friends surrounding him. It left a great impression on me. After he died, my family attended the funeral at his church. I remember thinking,” that man really knew how to die.”
That’s what I resolved to do too.
I was also beginning to question my decision to go ahead with the surgery. As the day grew closer, I was imagining what the surgery would be like, and what the recovery would entail. I thought about the operation. I would have incisions under both arms and down both legs from my groin. I would have no testicles. There would be a mesh of some sort separating my intestines and stomach from my bladder and urinary tract. How long would it take to recover? How much pain would I endure? Would it be successful? And for what? What kind of quality of life would I have? A few more months at most? Is the trade off worth it? Who was it benefitting, if I died anyway. These were the issues that were floating through my mind.
With a lot of thought, and agonizing about it, I resolved that it wasn’t worth it.
That realization came to me on the Monday night of the week in February that I was scheduled for surgery. I was going to call on next day, Tuesday, and tell that famous surgeon that I had changed my mind. I didn’t want to participate in his magic show and become a famous medical case. I don’t subscribe to the American Journal of Medicine, and neither does my family. I just want to be left alone to die in peace. Not be cut up and displayed for medical science, only to gain a few more months of a miserable existence. So that was my plan. I figured there would be anger, and possibly some financial repercussions, but I still felt that that was the best decision for me.
Was I afraid? You Bet!
I was probably as skittish as a bride who has decided to call off the wedding, after everyone is already in the church. But it is, what it is, and this is my life.
As it turned out, I never even needed to make that tremulous call.
They called ME on Tuesday!
The lab results at Sloane-Kettering had finally come back. They said that the biopsy results showed something very strange. What they originally thought was cancer cells, now showed up to only be some standard scar tissue, not Mesothelioma.
Now, I don’t know if there truly was a miracle that changed both me and my biopsy, or if it was just some stupid medical mistake.
I just know that I’m alive and well.