It all started in January of 2020 when I decided I had to go into Urgent Care to get my groin pain checked out. I must’ve torn a muscle or something like that….again. But, what was confusing about this was because there was no reason WHY my muscle should be torn in the first place, except for maybe hitting the spin machine too much. This is because I’m definitely not an intense athletic-type personality. (By the way, I did break my hip once, which just goes to show how un-athletic I am.)
Anyways, I’m sitting in the exam room for an ultrasound to feel my balls. An ultrasound?! Isn’t that for pregnant women to see their babies?! Why’s this gel being used on my balls and how the hell did I get here? Again, here I go with trying to be athletic when I’m clearly not and should just settle for easier exercise.
After the ultrasound, I get told by the ER doctor that there is a “spot.” What?! So, this isn’t a cycling injury or a spin machine bruise?! Is it superpowers? Yeah, it’s gotta be that!
(It would be TOTALLY worth it to have superpowers after this attempt at me trying to be athletic. But, really, in my head I’m starting to spiral. A spot….could be….wait for it….cancer.)
Resident urologist on call doctor-in-training walks in, with a nurse on call who is sitting off in the distance: “I’m gonna have a serious conversation with you. You probably have cancer and need surgery asap.” What?! I just came in for a dumb injury fix for an uncoordinated, nerdy guy who thinks he can be more physically-fit than he actually is…I mean, come on, how does a possible workout injury turn into THIS?
(That’s the thing about getting diagnosed with cancer, and especially as an AYA. You get entered, unwillingly, into one of the WORST clubs possible. At the same time, though, it has the BEST people one could ever know in this club. I have felt incredibly fortunate to get to know other AYA members.)
Anyways back to the story….
I get Surgery #1. The basic, essential operation for any patient considered to have cancerous mass in their testicles: The orchiectomy. Sounds like some name out of a comic book.
(Come to think, why can’t my issue be that I have some undiscovered superpower and this surgery will unleash it?)
The thing people don’t see about me is that the effects of my cancer survivorship are hidden underneath clothing. It’s like a secret identity. My head still has hair that never stopped growing. My body still continued to guard itself through the immune system. Outwardly from a day-to-day appearance, I’m normal-looking. But, underneath, it feels like my body has been worked up by a laboratory tasked with growing meta-human superheroes, but they forget to put in the magic chemicals that provide me with unique powers.
Soooo….where are the superpowers?
Those operations continued with the “big one,” also known as Surgery #2. An innovative operation that can remove metastatic cancer cells, which have invaded your body, is available for me. So, I travel to my doctor who slices open my abdomen for about five hours and cuts out the parts that are cancerous.
(This is the part where I get my superpowers, right? They insert some serum to transform me???)
I wake up and spend two and a half days recovering. The liquid-to-soft-to-lowfat-to normal diet transition was….well…not so fun. What people don’t see underneath my “normal outward” appearance are the scars that cancer left behind. The physical scars that, in turn, left emotional and mental scars that will be with me for the rest of my life. And, at this point, I am happy to be able to say…”the rest of my life.”
You learn to cope with the body marks left behind as “battle wounds,” or “badges of honor,” or whatever other metaphor you want to pick. But, the physical scarring remains. How will I look at the pool or beach? How will I explain this to potential dating partners? What will I look like years down the road?
And then, I got sliced open for Surgery #3. I go in and it’s another short operation like the first.
(Surely, if cancer was going to stick with me THIS long, and try to kill me a third time, then at least I’d get lucky and pick up some superpowers THIS time. Where are the superpowers??)
After waking up, nothing but soreness and anxiety over the wonder, “Is there still cancer left inside of me?”
Ahhhh, well it looks like no superpowers. Rather, it’s just “scanxiety” that has been left in me. It’s that feeling you get when you are waiting for the results of “do-you” or “don’t you” have cancer. What an un-delightful feeling!
Throughout it all, it feels like a secret identity. Being a survivor is like my “superhero identity” that no one knows is a part of me except for family, close friends, and the AYA cancer community. That AYA community are people I feel completely unlucky for what brought me to them, but also do not know how I would have made it this far without them.
By Gordon McKavanagh
Thank you to Gilead Sciences for sponsoring this story.