I am a testicular cancer survivor.
I was born in Saginaw, Michigan, in 1975. When I was just a baby, my parents divorced, and we moved to a suburb of Detroit called Bloomfield Hills. After graduation, I moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan, where I earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Michigan. After college, I returned to the Detroit area. I worked during the day while earning an MBA from Wayne State University at night.
Suddenly, one Thursday morning in October 2001, my busy world came to a standstill. At 26 years old, I was diagnosed with testicular cancer.
I couldn’t believe it, so I went to another doctor for a second opinion. He confirmed that I had cancer. The testicle was the epicenter of the disease. I went right into surgery. My left testicle was removed.
Although the surgery went well, my visits to the doctor did not stop there. It soon became clear that the cancer had spread (“metastasized”) from the testicle. The disease was making its way up my body.
The form of testicular cancer I had was a “non-seminoma.” That means it was a mixture of many different types of cancer cells, as opposed to a “seminoma” tumor, which consists of only one type of cancer cell. Nonseminomas are much more aggressive and spread much faster than their counterparts.
I knew what was next–chemotherapy. I did not understand what that meant. What is chemotherapy? What color is it? How will it make me feel?
I called my brother. I started sobbing. I could barely talk. My world was shattered. But, I was not going to give up.
My oncologist told me that the treatments might make me sterile. So, I went to a cryogenics laboratory to bank sperm. After that, it was time to start chemotherapy. My chemotherapy recipe was known as BEP: Bleomycin, Etoposide (aka: VP-16), and CisPlatin.
My regimen included three cycles of chemotherapy. Each cycle lasted three weeks.
One cycle included:
Week 1: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday: 8 hours of chemotherapy each day
Week 2: Wednesday – 2 hours of chemotherapy
Week 3: Wednesday – 2 hours of chemotherapy
The treatment weakened my body and wiped out most of my white blood cells. In fact, I was in such bad shape, the doctors were forced to delay my chemotherapy while my body recovered between cycles.The chemotherapy caused many side effects: throat sores, mouth sores, skin rashes, dry skin, cystic acne, extreme fatigue, hair loss, numbness in my fingers and toes, and partial hearing loss. But the most damaging side effect was a blood clot that developed in my left arm. The clot formed around my port, a medical implant that was an access point for my chemotherapy. The doctors had to remove my port, pull out most of the blood clot, and then pump me with blood thinners to break up the rest. With all the side effects and delays, the chemotherapy lasted for
At last, after all the treatment, I thought my fight was over. I slowly returned to the gym, started going out socially, and got back into life. Although I was happy to be alive, every day was a challenge. I did not have as much energy. I looked different. I struggled to find my postcancer identity.
Just as I was getting comfortable with myself, I learned the fight was not over.
Nearly one year after chemotherapy, a routine CT scan showed four tumors along my spine. Rather than risk cutting the spine, the surgeon went in through the stomach. He made an 11-inch incision, placed my organs to the side, and took out each tumor. The surgery lasted for four hours. It was successful.
Finally, I was freed from the disease and began my road to recovery.
I made a vow to myself while I was on chemotherapy. I looked at others in the oncology clinic and realized that I was different. Each day, my room was filled with family members and close friends. With so much support, I did not have a chance to lose hope. However, in many of the other rooms, hope already seemed lost. As I walked down the hall with my chemotherapy IV-pole on the way to the bathroom, I saw other people fighting cancer alone. They were lying in bed, motionless, watching television or staring in space. Their only stimulation was a nurse checking in for a minute or two on the hour. I knew this was not right.
I felt guilty because I had so many good people and so much positive energy around me. I made a silent promise that if I were given life after cancer, I would help these people.
So, how could I help?
I started by walking into the other rooms, one at a time, and introducing myself. “Hey, what’s up, I’m Jonny. What’s your name? I have testicular cancer. What type of cancer do you have?”
Many were older than me. A few were younger. Although they were exhausted just like me, everyone was friendly and welcomed my conversation. We shared stories, emotions, and opinions about many things in life. We all had our own type of the same disease.
Some fought for themselves, others for their children, and yet others for a spouse. But no matter the motivation, we were all fighting for life. And I wanted to help them get it back.
I wondered: “What if every cancer fighter could talk to a cancer survivor, who not only had beaten the same type of cancer, but who also was the same age and gender as the fighter?” The cancer survivor would be an angel–walking, living proof that the fighter could win too. What an amazing connection.
This is why I created Imerman Angels. We started in 2003 and today we’re a federally registered non-profit organisation that exists to provides personalized connections, enabling 1-on-1 support among cancer fighters, survivors and caregivers.
Please visit us at our website. The number one way you can help is to connect us with cancer fighters and survivors. They are the lifeblood of our service. No one should fight this disease alone.
I wish each of you well.
Footnote from Shirley: I can testify that Jonny is indeed alive and well at time of posting. I ‘met’ him in cyber-space a few days ago, and trust me! He sparkles with energy and enthusiasm for the work he’s doing. Thank you for sharing, Jonny!