Our Cancer Story
Between radiology consults, oncology appointments, and waiting for results, we made a conscious choice to escape with our family to the beach for just a few days of normalcy before everything medical took over our lives. It was the best choice we made, probably because we felt like we were taking charge and not at the mercy of cancer.
Over the next several months, Allen underwent intensive chemotherapy and multiple surgeries. Our chemo plan consisted of a 3 week cycle that repeated itself. The first week was the hardest since Allen had to endure chemotherapy daily. We traveled down to Baton Rouge, did bloodwork, and met with the oncologist before heading up to the cancer unit to receive chemotherapy. That was Monday thru Friday the first week. The second and third weeks we went just one day a week to follow the same procedures, but by then the medicine was really taking its toll and Allen was feeling pretty miserable. By the end of the third week he started to feel better again, but it was just in time for the process to start over again. Chemo is brutal that way.
One of the hardest things for me was figuring out how to be there for Allen (he really hates needles and didn't have a port for some reason, so it was important to him that I could be there with him as much as possible for bloodwork, IV placement, etc) and coordinate help for our young kids. At the time they were 6 years, 5 years, 2 years, and 6 months old. We had some incredible people from our church and community rally around us. It was the biggest miracle and tender mercy in our lives. They cared for us like we were their own family. They lifted us in our darkest hour. I learned so much about service from the hearts and hands of these people who are now dear friends. Watching our kids so we could go to Allen's chemotherapy treatments together 5 days a week— that was a sacrifice on their part for sure. We had family fly out to help us as well and it was such a strength and blessing for us. I don't love accepting help, but I'll always be grateful for the love shown and sacrifices made and what it taught me about service.
One of the biggest setbacks with chemotherapy happened during Allen's first round of treatments. He somehow contracted C. diff which is a bacteria that can cause various symptoms, but for Allen it made it so he couldn't keep any food down or in him. He lost 15+ pounds that week. We tried every medication the doctor could offer, but things didn't improve for several days. Since this was his first round of chemo, we didn't know if this was just a part of the process and what should be expected. It wasn't. Our doctor was able to determine the infection and keep Allen hydrated. But by the next round of chemo, I was pushing Allen into the cancer unit in a wheelchair since he was so weak and unable to walk himself. The nurses could visibly see the significant weight loss he had experienced in that short amount of time. It was scary but we were reassured that he would bounce back and stop losing weight so rapidly, which he did. I think his overall weight loss from chemo (start to finish) was 25-30 pounds. As a 6' 2" male, that seemed like a lot.
After completing all of his chemotherapy treatments, Allen had additional scans and consults to determine how big the remaining tumors were and next steps. They decided that Allen would need to have a retroperitoneal lymph node dissection (RPLND) to remove what remained of the tumor in his back, along with a simultaneous surgery to remove the remaining tumor in his neck. Because of the invasiveness of the surgery and technical hand required, they recommended we travel to a more experienced doctor who frequently performed these operations. We were able to secure Dr. Foster, a world-recognized authority on RPLND surgeries, and traveled to Indianapolis for his procedure. It was difficult and nerve wracking, but we were in good hands every step of the way and the surgery was a success.
We returned home after about a week to complete the rest of Allen's recovery and follow up with our oncologist in Louisiana. After final scans were completed, the results came back and we heard the incredible news that Allen was cancer free. It was a long road and such a relief to hear those words!
It's almost hard to believe that cancer is such a big part of our past. Allen still has a schedule where he goes in for scans and bloodwork, but it feels surreal that we experienced all that we did. Our lives are in such a different place now. Our kids are older. Allen's just as active and fun-loving as he was before cancer hit. It's like a distant memory that will always have a place in our hearts for the growth, hurt, and healing it brought with it. But it's not something that continues to define us or be with us. I still find it hard to explain.
When we first heard of Allen's diagnosis, I had a friend put me in touch with someone that had also experienced testicular cancer with their spouse. In her email to me, she said that cancer was something that they never would have wanted or asked for, but now it's something that they'd never give back. I didn't understand what she meant at the time, but now I completely agree. Some of the experiences we had are so tender to me. They're things I never want to forget experiencing. They shaped me as an individual and I know Allen would say the same. I don't wish for anyone else to experience cancer or tragedy in any form, but I know everyone faces their hard things. And I hope we can see the growth and the beauty that can come when we face those hard things together and with the Lord. And when we allow others into our lives to help us through the struggles we face.
We met so many angels in Louisiana. They were ordinary people like you and me who just wanted to do something to help. They brought by meals or treats or things they thought might help Allen... or thoughtful gifts to brighten my day. They took the kids out to get a happy meal or invited them to go on an adventure fishing. They called and sent texts to check in on us. They mowed our lawn and picked our weeds without asking. They dropped by just to say hi and give a hug. Every little bit made a huge difference. Their service truly changed us. It lifted us + gave us the courage to face the hard days + cry when we needed to, but still get up each day + keep pressing forward. That's when I started to see how one person can truly make a difference.
If you know someone who I can help, I'm happy to answer any questions they might have about chemotherapy, cancer in general, or testicular cancer specifically. I hope our experiences can be a strength to them. Just send them a link to this page so they can get in touch or say hello here.
I'll be writing a blog post with ideas for what to include in cancer care packages, ways you can help people when they don't know what help they need, and more... so let me know if you have specific questions or ideas! If you have someone on your mind or hear about someone who's struggling, I hope you'll have the courage to just do something. Show them you care and that you're there for them. We can all #liftwherewestand.