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Testicular Cancer

Cancer | Part 2 | Tim's Story

Testicular Cancer, Cancer, ClickforhopeJasmine LopezComment
"The constant reality of my frail humanity forces a celebration of each day on this earth, and reminds me of the countless invisible threads that form everyone around me; I must be compassionate." -Tim

Please share your story:

I can still remember the very specific point in time when the course I charted for myself and that of my body diverged. I became quite sick midway through high school, and the best and brightest I visited were befuddled by what it might be. Tests were inconclusive; traditional evaluations pointed everywhere and nowhere. It seemed like the flu, came on like the flu, passed like the flu, and yet it wasn’t the flu.

My parents and I moved on; I didn’t ‘feel’ sick any more. I was busy in high school and was never the type to sit still for very long. But something was different: my heart skipped a beat sporadically; my ears rung; my joints hurt; my stomach was never settled; my head ached; my memory was not so sharp. But I never thought of these things as related. They were part of my day-to-day, and for the most part they were a low din not worth dealing with. Plus, I was growing and active: it could have been any number of things, I thought.

Life flew by. I met and fell hard for an amazing woman, a high school crush. I went to a great college. My crush became my girlfriend, who went to college a few towns away. My girlfriend became my fiancé and I graduated; with my fiancé now wife, I moved to Chicago. We studied, we worked, we struggled, we traveled. Each day we fell more in love, each day life got a little better, and yet each day I felt a little bit worse. Imperceptible changes added up to noticeable realities over the years. We lived abroad, we challenged ourselves, we challenged each other, we brought life into the world. I almost didn’t notice the skipping heartbeat becoming more sporadic; my ears roared and my joints ached. My stomach swirled; my head pounded. I never slept. My memory failed.

We saw specialists, tons of them, who checked everything, finding almost nothing, except small masses in my lungs and brain that were inconclusive, distinct memory loss and verbal retention issues, voids where my spinal cord had been eaten away, bones fusing together. They all seemed to be leftovers; every test suggested I was as healthy as could be, as if we could see the wreckage from a tornado but no proof that one had ever passed through. I took pills, lots of pills and gave myself shots. Doctors and nurses successfully destroyed my immune system, sending me to the hospital with meningitis and encephalitis, probably from a cold floating around our house. We had no answers, and worse, we had no proof— only wreckage.

This ghost of an illness started creating gaps in our family fabric. Beth was afraid to be intimate for fear of getting me sick. Our son knew I was fragile. I knew I was. We changed our life plans; we denied our desire to bring more life into an uncertain future. We grieved. I questioned myself: was it all in my head? I wanted some real, active, living proof that what I was feeling could somehow be measured. I hated feeling foolish for seeking answers; I desperately wanted resolution. I wanted something that we could treat, something that could restore our family hopes, something that removed my guilt for what this had done to my family.

I learned to cope, to ignore, to push through, to accept my fate. We grew our family, adding two more beautiful people into our world. We lived and we loved. I ignored the deep, hidden longing for proof, a silent prayer that we would one day find something.

And we did: in February of this year, I was diagnosed with testicular cancer. I must admit I had been jealous of some of the cancer patients I’d seen at the hospital— they had something real; they had something that had a game plan. I guess now I did too. We had SOMETHING to treat, finally. We were aggressive: I went under the knife to remove two tumors and a testicle, and a week later my appendix. We jumped at the chance to do a heavy round of chemo to remove what the surgery could not.

And now we wait: to see if the treatment worked, to see if the treatment resolved any of my other issues, preparing ourselves for the possibility that it didn’t. And we live. And we love.

How has your story shaped who you are today?

I don’t remember my childhood. I have Polaroids floating in my head of a few moments but I’m not certain if they are real or recollections from photo albums. I don’t know what it feels like to wake rested. I don’t know how music sounds without the ringing in my ears adding to the composition. I am constantly aware of my body, because its painful reminders mark my every step.

I know the fragility, the temporality of my body. And to be honest, I wouldn’t change it.

The constant reality of my frail humanity forces a celebration of each day on this earth, and reminds me of the countless invisible threads that form everyone around me; I must be compassionate. I reinforce what little my brain understands by reading faces and lips; I must be present. And those lost markers of masculinity—strength, virility, appendage, confidence— remind me of what really defines me. I am vulnerable and human.

What compelled you to share your story?

Hope is not about seeking the answer I want, but accepting the lesson in my journey. My hope is no longer for physical healing, but for spiritual growth, for being rather then becoming.

What encouraging words would you give to someone who shares a similar story?

I’ve always wondered if the next bit of bad news would wreck my faith, if whatever was around the corner would be my faith’s downfall. If the physical, emotional, relational strain would ever be too much for my bride, my family, or my faith. If every future trial had been revealed to me so many years ago in high school, I’d have long given up. If every moment of strength, of hope, of love, of opportunity were revealed, I’d want all of it.

I don’t know what the future holds— I don’t know how we will be tested, or if my body will ever know comfort. What I do know is that from every trial we’ve found opportunity; from every challenge, hope; from every weakness, strength.

Cancer | Part 1 | Beth's Story

Testicular Cancer, ClickforhopeJasmine Lopez2 Comments
 "And then Tim found a tumor. We cried. He scheduled an appointment. We screamed. Consulted with a doctor. We shook with fear. He had an ultrasound. We scrambled. He had an MRI. We laid in the fetal position. We scheduled surgery. We doubted it all. ." -Beth

Please share your story:

Not many people meet the love of their life at seventeen. But I did. I fell madly in love with a boy and consequently spent my days and nights praying nothing would happen to him that would take him away. I’m blown away that seventeen years, three continents, and three kids later, I still get gushy when he looks at me and smiles.

I remember first hearing about Tim’s pain as we walked hand in hand in New York as gooey-eyed teenagers. He’d constantly pop his wrists to relieve a creak, or ask me to walk on his back to knead a knot. It wasn’t until living abroad years later that he was able to recognize that the pain was steadily increasing— little by little every day, every week, every year. Upon our return stateside, we vowed to investigate just what was going on in his body.

Doctor after doctor scratched their head and threw their hands up, but not first without experimenting with a dangerous array of drugs or flinging diagnoses left and right. We jumped to catch each one, eager to have a name, then hopefully a cure. Nothing panned out. Even the Mayo Clinic sent us packing us with the recommendation to drink more water. “Try Gatorade, too,” a doctor said.

We gave up.

Meanwhile we were in family planning purgatory. With a four-year-old, a mystery medical condition, and the question of “should we have another?” it feltlike a no-brainer to just call it done and quit while we were ahead. To challenge the societal status quo by having 'just one kid'. Besides, I wasn’t entirely convinced I even wanted to do that whole song and dance again. It was so much work. We ended up agreeing to let God decide, saying, “God, we will give you two months.”

Five minutes later, I was pregnant. With twins. Suffice it to say, this was the darkest season of my life. Until they arrived. From the minute they were born, their existence was God-breathed. They’re simply the greatest tiny humans ever created. It was a sweet, smile-drenched year.

And then Tim found a tumor. We cried. He scheduled an appointment. We screamed. Consulted with a doctor. We shook with fear. He had an ultrasound. We scrambled. He had an MRI. We laid in the fetal position. We scheduled surgery. We doubted it all. He started to recover. We started to unfurl our grip. He got appendicitis. We clung tighter to each other. The hits just kept coming. We scheduled chemo. We moved so we would have extra space for when my mom came to help during chemo treatments. He completed chemo. Back to the fetal position.

I began to understand that my irrational fear of one day losing Tim was actually just a preparation for my heart for when I do lose Tim. It felt inevitable, and yet my clenched jaw, clutched fists, and tender heart were unwilling to accept it. So we hope.

This thing, cancer, is the exact reason I did not want to have another child. The “what if—.” I’m not capable of raising a child on my own, let alone two, now three?! I spent many nights crying in the bathtub, staring at my growing mountain of a belly, screaming “WHY?!.” Yet beneath the fear, there was a glimmer of understanding; still though, I was unwilling to accept that THE plan is better than MY plan.

Looking back at these past few months—this treacherous, scary season—I can’t imagine these babies not being here. The joy they have brought us in this horribly sad, unrelenting season has been remarkable. They have saved me from myself— my fear, my worry, my thoughts—because no amount of worrying is going to change anything or save anyone.

We’re now two weeks post-chemo, one and done. One big round and we’re starting to see normal again, or finding a new normal. His prognosis is near perfect, his side effects slowly subsiding. So we hug tighter, hope louder. I cling to my vision of us 65 years from now, and squeeze his hand harder for when the next hill on the roller coaster comes.

How has your story shaped you into who you are today?

I'm still very much 'in it', but as we claw our way out I've found freedom despite living in my worst nightmare. I've been fortunate to experience a number of dark seasons; almost all of them have taken place in the last four years. Not so coincidentally, the past four years have been marked with the most fulfilling and life-giving relationships I’ve ever had. Being at the end of myself has beautifully allowed the people around me to step in, show up, stand in the gap, and fight for me. My marriage is stronger. My friendships, more genuine.  Conversations with new people, richer. My heart is open, my eyes are centered, my hands are receptive. I could not have said that about myself until now.

What compelled you to share your story?

To encourage someone to cherish the trial that they are in.

What encouraging words would you give to someone who shares a similar story?

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of manykinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." —James:1, 2-4

Let it be known I hated these verses. It's only after your trials that you can see the beauty, the growth, the strength. But in the middle of them, they're ugly, they're raw and they're unwelcome. But it's really only then that you can see your true self. It's really only then that you can see the depths of your faith. It's really easy to praise God when all is peachy, isn't it? It's really easy to have great relationships when everyone is happy and healthy.

Yet what is the sunshine if not for the shade by which we compare it? What is a hill without a valley? They are HARD but necessary.