My New Image After Testicular Cancer

On race day, all my stress and anxiety would disappear. I was so free once the starter shot the pistol. Each race day was a celebration. As a competitor, I know strange things happen in races. I look at the places where my life diverges from “normalcy.” That is where my story begins. After surgery for testicular cancer, there were times when I felt I needed to be alone to mentally heal. As friends and runners converged on me, the distractions didn’t help. Self-pity was not in my DNA.

While changing from my singlet into clean clothes, I remember a local race competitor inquiring if surgery hurt or whether my 13-inch scar after my surgery was life-threatening. Those were questions raised by some people who I wish I had a greater connection with so I could have really talked about how I was feeling. Instead, I would typically respond so as not to make them uncomfortable. I’d say, “I’m fine!”

My image was often judged after having cancer. Image became a state of mind of how I saw myself and how other people viewed me. I challenged myself to maintain personal relationships, as they are an important part of the human condition. It’s true that cancer has built my image. Cancer lifted me to graduate to a life I never knew existed. I am following my deepest aspirations, ones that once felt like absurd dreams.

Without an accurate map of where to go, I have kept trying. That is what cancer taught me. Everyone’s experience is different but also similar. There’s no exact map, but one must keep the health goal in sight and strive toward it.

It seemed natural to worry about my health. I needed to stop thinking about things that could go wrong and allow myself to believe all my ventures could be a success. That 13-inch battle scar on my abdomen changed me. It took from me, but I gained much more. I was one of the “lucky” ones. I felt bad for ever complaining because I’m very aware that not all people had the outcome I have had. I don’t have the answers or reasons for why I got cancer. Having conversations with patients with cancer, I tell them that a life of normalcy will be evolving.

You will find a “new normal.” As time goes on, you begin to feel more like you are understanding and appreciating time, and taking advantage of every day. For example, I have developed a backbone as a result of my cancer. I don’t have to prove myself to others. I make choices that are in my best interest. It’s how I have created my own self-image.

I set a goal for years at races to meet hundreds of people with whom I had a similar interest in competing in road races. Setting goals was part of my background as a high school and college track and cross-country athlete.

Post-college brought on a whole new existence. No more pizza joints and cruising with my buddies. Serious business of doctors’ visits, eating healthy and exercising every day replaced those carefree days. Even on those days when exhausted with doctors and tests, I would try to at least get in a light two-mile run or walk.

I also put energy into understanding others facing difficult times. Understanding others doesn’t mean putting myself in their shoes. I cannot know what their shoes feel like. It means active listening, so you hear what is going on with them. It’s easier said than done in our world of unending interruptions.

But being an empathic listener also helps you to understand your own emotions, and you can learn from others how they handle their darkest days.

Emotions can play tricks on yourself as well as your mental health. My blueprint for a successful future was to keep to a five-point system. These are my five steps:

  1. Be positive. Negativity does not help you be successful. If you see yourself in a positive light, you can be more than you think.
  2. Live in the moment. It’s an ongoing process, much like starting a new job. Learn, absorb and own your new life and emotions. Set goals no matter how small. Your vibe sets forth a healthy behavior.
  3. Build a support team. Know this is not something you can do alone.
  4. Be honest with yourself. Listen to your conscience. Identify the good and the bad. Weakness is not failure. Use your support team to talk through your strengths and weaknesses.
  5. Eat healthy and take time to relax. You deserve it.

This is still a good system to build your self-image. When your life is upside down, setting goals for yourself can help. Still today, as I look down in the hot tub to my chest battle scar, I realize that I am a survivor. I do feel vulnerable thinking it could happen again, but I try to focus on my goals, healthy habits and share my thoughts with a select few individuals.

After the world’s COVID-19 lockdown and going back to get my Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree, I discovered within myself a new shift. I could be more than a testicular survivor, runner and biker. I could have a goal and write about things I know and what happened to me.

This life-altering illness called testicular cancer shifted my life perspective. I challenged myself to overcome both emotional and physical discomfort. I learned to navigate a path that included talking and listening to others. Then set goals and live a healthy life. These are all things you as a survivor can do, too.

For more news on cancer updates, research and education, don’t forget to subscribe to CURE®’s newsletters here.

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