Hearing the words “you have cancer” is always a shock. For Jeremy, a 25-year-old healthy young man, the impact was particularly acute. “My cancer journey was unexpected. It popped up after about a year of waiting and being told that nothing was wrong, even after having gone to the doctor,” he recalls. “So many thoughts are going through your head. Will I be able to have children? Will there be issues down the road? It’s a part of you that’s so personal. You’re overcome with the initial thoughts and concerns of ‘will my girlfriend still love me’ and silly thoughts like that. Which aren’t silly.”
Jeremy kept the circle of family and friends who knew of his diagnosis small, but the support they offered was significant. His mother, a nurse, was with him at the initial doctor’s appointment where he received his diagnosis, and her medical knowledge and “second set of ears” was valuable. “She was asking what turned out to be the critical questions.” Friends and family brought food, movies and games to his house between treatments. Others came and sat with him as he underwent infusions.
He still laughs as he recalls the end-of-treatment gift put together by his then-girlfriend (now wife!) and some friends: a singing telegram, complete with personalized song that had “the entire treatment center rolling on the floor. Having a good time helped round out a terrible situation with some humor and light.”
After being diagnosed, Jeremy started research immediately – including getting a second opinion a few days later and seeking out other individuals who’d survived testicular cancer. “Having open conversations with my family, my doctors, my girlfriend, my close friends” helped a great deal. “Being very open and honest about my concerns and my struggles at the time was incredibly helpful. The online resources I was able to find through CHN and medical journals were also valuable.”
Jeremy was among the lucky ones – he responded well to surgery and treatments. His doctors were encouraging. “As cancers go, you’re lucky. No one thinks they’re lucky for having cancer, but as cancers go, this is very treatable.” Five years later, his good fortune is holding and life is good: he’s happily married to Lindsay, his scans are clean and he’s helping others facing cancer by serving as a CHN volunteer.
LEARNING CANCER’S LESSONS
Today, Jeremy is putting the lessons he learned during the dark days of treatment into good practice. He shared five of the most important:
- Keep a positive attitude
“It cannot be understated how important it is to remain positive in some of the darkest times. It’s very easy to get down and be upset and think ‘why is this happening to me?’ But there is always a flip side to that coin. Trying to remain positive is incredibly important to help stay focused on the end goal: you’re going to beat this, you’re going to get through this. Negative thoughts make it increasingly more difficult to motivate yourself to get up each day, to get out of bed, to go outside and take walks.”
- Don’t let cancer consume you
“Staying positive is not the only mental aspect. It’s also trying to not let cancer become your life, trying to ensure that you maintain some semblance of routine and normalcy.” He often shares the good advice he received during treatment. “Don’t let this become who you are. Don’t let cancer change who you are. This is not defining you. You are still Jeremy.” That advice helped him compartmentalize – creating room for daily walks and nightly episodes of Jeopardy, even as cancer put him on medical leave and treatments filled his schedule.
- Sustain relationships
He recognizes the value of maintaining relationships with his care team, even when treatment is over. “As much as I say ‘It’s been 5 years and there’s no signs of anything coming back,’ I still go to the doctor each time I have an appointment. I still do all of my checks. Because maybe it’s not testicular cancer in the future, maybe it identifies something else sooner in the future and prevents something in the future.”
- Don’t do it alone
“There is nothing like talking to your loved ones, but if they have never received their own diagnosis, there is a part of them that cannot really relate to what you’re going through. They can be as supportive as ever and can provide some of the best love and comfort, but they might not be able to fully relate to you. So talking to somebody who has gone through a similar diagnosis or who has had to take time off of work for a sickness or who has had to think about will they be able to have children in the future and how they navigated that, that is a piece that’s invaluable.”
Patients and caregivers should call CHN because it will open the ability to talk to individuals who really understand. It opens up the ability to talk with individuals who have navigated a similar situation previously. Really talking to someone who can relate can provide some of the best advice, give you a question you can ask you doctor, or give you perspective.”
- Live in gratitude – and give back
“It’s incredibly important that once you overcome something like this, to reflect on it and see how you can make a positive impact going forward.” That reflection brought him back to CHN, which he’d discovered during his treatment, and led him to Adam, a partner at his accounting firm then serving as the Board CEO for Cancer Hope Network. They’d never interacted, but Jeremy made the volunteer version of a cold call.
“Adam was incredibly welcoming and supportive. He immediately reached out, we spoke at length and then he introduced me to the staff. I got involved with CHN first through the lens of finance and budgeting, which leverages my accounting background. And then I wanted to do more and volunteered to help by being matched with people going through a diagnosis. I wanted to talk to people, to reach out. That desire to take a negative experience and turn it into a positive is why I’ve gotten and remained involved with Cancer Hope Network.”
Inspired by Jeremy’s story? Have life lessons you’d like to share with others facing cancer? Consider becoming a CHN peer support mentor. Looking for hope and a little guidance? Request a peer support match with Jeremy or another cancer survivor.