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Survivor since 1989…

As a thousand thoughts raced through my mind I said to the urologist, “I have a contract to shoot the World Cup races next weekend.  How about we do this after that?”

“How about we do it TOMORROW?” he replied.  It was like a two-by-four hitting me over the head.  All of a sudden, this was very serious business.  All of my hoping that it wasn’t, and all of my rationalizations, evaporated in that brief moment.  I had testicular cancer and there was no easy way out.

It was February 1989 and I had been diagnosed during an annual physical a few days before and the findings were verified by the urologist I had been referred to.  My girlfriend, Marjorie, had urged me to have it checked out.  I agreed to move up the date of the physical at her urging.  If it weren’t for her, I may not have had it checked out at all…until perhaps it was too late.

There had been several cancer diagnoses in my family when I was younger and all of them had the same end result…death.  As a teenager, I had watched my father suffer for seven years with lung cancer, a result of the Camel’s he smoked incessantly, a habit he picked up during his days as a soldier during World War II.

The surgery went as well as could be hoped for and it was recommended that I follow up with radiation therapy. This was before the days of instant internet access to all sorts of useful information so I was going on faith here.  I spent three weeks receiving radiation at St. Mary’s Hospital Oncology Center in Grand Junction.  The people and the facility there were great.  And Marjorie?  Well, she would call me every night, as I sat alone in my hotel room, to check up on me.  I’d be tired and nauseous from the radiation and the phone would ring, and it would be her, and the cold, darkness of the winter’s night would turn to warm, sunshine.

I often wondered what she must have been thinking…Dating a guy who might be dying soon of testicular cancer?! At the end of the winter she arranged a trip to Hawaii for some R and R.  Two years later we were married…in Hawaii.  Several years later I asked her if she’d ever had any reservations about continuing our relationship, knowing that I had cancer, at the time. She replied, “I never doubted for a minute that you would make it.”  And so, I did.  And so did we.

People wonder if I ever ask myself, “Why me?”  Because I had been around cancer victims, I never considered the question because I already knew that anyone was a possible candidate for this club.  Instead I asked, “What about all of those people who had either been diagnosed already, or would be someday.  They all had families, and loved ones, and hopes and dreams for the future.  I knew that the victims were not just those who suffered from the disease directly, but the many people that suffered along with them (and were all too often left behind at the end)…husbands, wives, children, grandchildren and friends.  What about them?

I came to understand that the disease itself is bigger than any one of us individually, but collectively we CAN make a difference for those who still must face this battle.

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