After meeting with the head and neck surgeon and learning that Allen did have cancer, we were given an appointment with the radiologist for the following day. We went to the cancer center and entered a waiting room with several other people. They were all waiting for their radiation treatments. Most everyone in the room was much older and looked fairly sick. I don’t think we had felt so out of place until that moment. It just didn’t feel real. How could we belong here when Allen felt just fine? The doctors were saying cancer, but it was so hard to accept the truth.
The nurse called us back to a consultation room and spoke with us about how radiation would work, how often the treatments would be, and potential side effects. It was almost assumed that radiation would be a part of our treatment, but we didn’t even know which type of cancer we were dealing with yet. We listened, asked questions, and then waited to speak with the radiologist.
The doctor came in to meet with us. We rehearsed why we were here, from the tenderness in Allen’s chest last summer to the lump in his neck this summer. He asked questions and did his own examination. We felt confident that he would be a great doctor, just like the many others we had consulted with. He had studied at M.D. Anderson, which we had heard so many great things about, and agreed that we could certainly receive a 2nd opinion there if we’d like to once we received a diagnosis. He ordered a PET/CT scan to determine where the cancer was originating from and arranged for us to meet with the oncologist after that.
Allen, Evan, Raegan and I went to the imaging center for Allen’s PET/CT scan a couple days later. The kids and I learned to navigate our way around the hospital and found some water features outside to keep “us” entertained. 🙂 We left the hospital feeling one step closer to getting our answer.
Monday rolled around and we went to meet the oncologist (this doctor is over chemotherapy treatments). He informed us that the PET/CT scan showed no signs of cancer in any organs, which was a huge blessing, but there was a second large mass behind the abdomen in Allen’s lower back (11 cm, on the right side). He asked us to describe any symptoms and started to piece everything together: chest tenderness last summer, one large mass in the lymph nodes behind the abdomen, and another large mass in the lymph nodes of the lower neck. All of these signs pointed to testicular cancer. The chest tenderness Allen experienced last summer (July 2013) may have been the start of his cancer since testicular cancer can produce hCG in men– the same hormone produced in pregnant women. The locations of the large masses were also in line with testicular cancer as it follows a very particular pattern when spreading in the body. We were fortunate to have the cancer skip Allen’s lungs before spreading to the neck. The doctor explained how this type of cancer is very curable, which was a relief to us, but it’s always different to hear that you’re “lucky” to have any type of cancer. He wanted to send Allen for a second biopsy on his neck and an ultrasound to confirm a diagnosis. Before we left, the nurse drew Allen’s blood. I’m not sure if there’s anything he hates more than needles. Often times he faints or gets close to fainting, so I always make a point to warn the nurse. That’s just something we’re going to have to get used to during this process.
One way we’ve seen the Lord’s hand in all of this is that our sweet baby Raegan is here with us. Testicular cancer can cause infertility. From what we’ve read, only 1 in 4 men with testicular cancer are fertile and undergoing chemotherapy treatments can cause infertility as well. Knowing this now, we can see that baby Rae was meant to be in our family right now. Last summer, we were living in New Jersey while Allen completed an internship for his MBA. We had three kids at the time (Benson, 5; Katelyn, 3; and Evan, 1) and I didn’t feel ready to have a fourth. Then out of the blue, I felt the strongest impression that we were supposed to try and have another baby. I had never felt so sure of a prompting. We were able to get pregnant right away and shortly thereafter, Allen started to feel some swollen glands behind his nipples that caused some concern. He visited a doctor and had some screenings done, but nothing signaled cancer at the time. Now we can see that the Lord knew what was to come and was helping us complete our little family. We’ve felt for a while now that these four kids, as sweet as they are– and I’m being serious about that, are about all we can handle! This just confirms that our family is complete. Raegan’s the sweet little sister we hoped Katelyn would have and has daddy’s blue eyes. We love her so much!
The second biopsy and ultrasound were completed just two days later. Allen will tell you that the biopsy was brutal. Seeing that we had a free weekend and would likely begin treatments soon, we arranged for the doctor to call us with the biopsy and ultrasound results and we took our first weekend trip to Fort Walton Beach, Florida. It was a nice escape from reality, but didn’t go exactly as planned since most of our kids were sick and Katelyn ended up in the hospital with respiratory problems. We loved the beaches, though, and the moments when we could all be together.
The oncologist called me on Friday to discuss the results and since Allen was at the hospital with Katelyn, we conferenced him in to hear the diagnosis. The doctor confirmed that Allen did have testicular cancer and would need to undergo a surgery and then begin chemotherapy treatments. We asked him several questions and thanked him before getting off the call. Now that we knew what we were dealing with, we could begin taking steps in the right direction to fight this cancer, conquer it, and return to normal life. It was a blessing to have an answer and a promising outcome.
Throughout this experience, we have felt the Lord watching out for us and comforting us. He has placed people in our lives that have helped without being asked. He has allowed us to be humbled as we’ve received service from friends who we’ve known for only a few short months. I can already see how this experience with cancer is teaching me to serve and love better than I have in my life. I’m hoping to write several blog entries about what I’m learning through this process and how it’s truly refining me and molding me into a better person.
I love my Heavenly Father and know without a doubt that He is aware of me. He knows and loves each one of us. I love my Savior, Jesus Christ, and am beginning to understand more intimately that He has felt our pains, sorrows, loneliness, hopelessness, and despair while suffering in the garden of Gethsemane. He knows all that we are experiencing and has felt all that we feel. He is our dearest friend. I’m so grateful for the gospel of Jesus Christ in my life. It buoys me up and gives me hope that all will be right as His will is done. My hope is to always turn to Him– during times that are difficult and discouraging, easy and joyful and everything in between– so I can draw nearer to Him in my life and become the person He knows I can be. I love my family, my Savior, my Heavenly Father, and the life I’ve been given. I’m grateful He will be with us every step of the way as we face this new trial.