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Jon Fleischman

15 Years In Remission – My Cancer Survivor’s Story

I can never give blood again – I am on the “may not give” registry.  When I fill out forms asking about my medical history, I always have to check obscure boxes and fill in a lot of information in the extra space provided.  There’s a huge area on my stomach where the nerves are cut and I can feel nothing – and I sport a scar that I sometimes I say I got in a bar-fight, even though I’ve never fought anyone in a bar.  I have a love for life, and a strong relationship with God, that comes from someone who almost died, but lived to tell about it.

Fifteen years ago, I was diagnosed with cancer.  I survived.  And except for the “getting cancer” part of the whole experience, it was one of the best things to ever happen to me…

It was February of 1998 and I was working professionally on the English for the Children, Yes on Prop. 227 campaign.   I was also working as campaign manager for Gloria Matta Tuchman, the Republican candidate for State Superintendent of Public Instruction – Gloria was the co-author of Prop. 227.  On top of this, I was busy with all kinds of other conservative and Republican activities.  The last thing I expected was the detour my life would take for a big chunk of that year.  Most take good health for granted – I know that I did.

I was taking a shower – and noticed that there was a bump the size of a small marble on one of my testicles.  I thought it unusual and probably would have ignored it – but I didn’t.  For some reason I decided I should put a call into my longtime physician — John Stasiewicz – and boy am I glad I did.  While reassuring on the phone, he told me that I should come right down to his office and let him check me out.  After he did, he immediately sent me to get an ultrasound (yeah, like pregnant women get to look at their yet-to-be-born children).

I will never forget driving back to his office, with a report from the lab technician and the charts from the ultrasound.  The report concerned me – I don’t know that I was supposed to open the sealed envelope for Dr. Stas – but I did.  I saw the phrase, “Solid mass in the right testicle” and I suddenly got very worried.  It turns out I had every reason to be.

Dr. Stas informed me that it was almost certain that I had Testicular Cancer.  I was stunned.  Me?  I was 30 years old, how could I have cancer?  He then informed me that it was a quick moving and very dangerous form of cancer, and that it was lucky that I had come into the office as quick as I had.  Staz told me that I had “the young man’s” cancer as it typically struck men in their prime.  He told me that treatment was really about figuring out how far the cancer had metastasized (spread) in my body.  Apparently TC always take the same “route” in the human body – it starts in the testes, then goes to the abdomen, then the lungs, and finally to the brain.  If not caught in time, it can be terminal.

A CT-scan was performed immediately, and I found out that in addition to my testes, I had a tumor the size of an avocado in my abdomen and that that the cancer was also present in my lungs.  Stage 3!  But fortunately that is where it stopped.  Literally within a day I was into a surgical center where they removed my right testicle (I know, there’s some irony there).  And within two weeks I was in the U.C. Irvine Medical Center where the Chief of Urology personally performed what is called a radical Retroperitoneal Lymph Node Dissection.  This was a major, eight hour surgery where they pretty much had to move all kinds of major organs to ultimately pull that big tumor out of me.

After I had barely recovered from my surgery, I went right into a months-long regime of chemotherapy.  The good news, the oncologist at St. Josephs told me, was that for someone in my circumstances, the chemo would, in essence, cure me (98.6% likelihood).  I could go into the stories of having a port installed, toxic poison being dripped into me, severe nausea, having to have IV’s hooked up to me in my home, and more.  I remember “mustering up” for the post-primary night California Republican Party “unity breakfast” since it was close, only to have a friend ask me if I had lost any hair – I said “not yet!” and then pulled my hair only to have a tuft of it literally come out in my hand.  Yikes.  It was an absolutely horrible, miserable time in my life – physically.

I look back on the entire experience now, and I really look back on my time in the hospital after the surgery.  I was so scared.  As part of the recovery, I had to walk around the ward.  In doing so, I looked into the rooms of people fighting bone marrow cancer and other things more horrible than I was facing.  Many of them faced hopeless situations.  Something happened there, where I realized that I was not in control of my situation, and I had to feel comfortable that a “higher authority” was in charge.  This flame of faith stayed with me throughout, and still burns to this day.  I also realized through the visits of scores of friends at the hospital and at home during the chemo treatments that it was relationships that matter in life, much more so than physical things.  I was, and am, truly blessed.

A few take-aways:

— Every guy from about age-twenty to forty should take the TC self-exam monthly – catching it early is the best way to stop it and lead a normal life.

— No matter how great you feel, don’t go without medical insurance.  Get a catastrophic coverage plan to cover hospital expenses over 10k.  Without my insurance my out-of-pocket would have been six figures.

— Just because you only have one testicle, don’t think that your plumbing is forever shot.  I’m the proud dad of Matthew (6) and Sophia (3).

— Don’t wait until you get very sick to realize the importance of faith, and developing deep, meaningful relationships with the people that matter in your life.

— Finally, for the curious – I would never have made it through my experience without Doug Bank and the amazing Testicular Cancer Resource Center, which is still helping so many freaked out, vulnerable victims of testicular cancer.  Check it out to answer all of your questions about TC.

Fifteen years ago today, I was officially declared to be in remission.  The cancer was gone.   I will forever be thankful to my family, and to my friends, for their support during that time.