“One Ball and Two Strikes”
“Ouch…Lynn you can’t jump on my lap like that, I’m telling you it hurts.” That was my reaction that Saturday evening, in late December of 2007, as my wife innocently sat on my lap to put her arm around my neck and give me a kiss. In female language that pain and reaction translated to “You are trying to say that I’m fat, aren’t you?” I still to this day love to hold that over the head of the greatest wife in the world.
That pain proved to be a stage II non-seminoma tumor engulfing my left testicle. The germ cell tumor contained several of the most aggressive types of testicular cancer cells, including choriocarcinoma, embryonal carcinoma and yolk sac cells. According to the pathology report, the testicle and tumor was 99 grams, the size of a large egg and from the time of the ultrasound to the orchiectomy, it had doubled in size in those 6 days. This was clear evidence of how aggressive and serious this cancer can be. Luckily, I studied Health Education at Northern Illinois University and knew how important self-examination was. I was fortunate to catch this extremely early and that was the foundation of my positive thinking.
Having a doctor tell you that you have cancer is one thing but having him tell you that he is going to remove one of your testicles was truly the biggest loss of the day! I could deal with the cancer but to take one of my boys??? “SHIT”…I thought to myself, not me, I was only 27. Now I’m going to be like ESPN analyst John Kruk. Damn, now I’m like 3rd baseman Mike Lowell, the infamous Lance Armstrong or Darren Jackson, a broadcaster of the White Sox. CRAP…. Now I have to think ahead of any situation that might open a window for someone else to make a joke. Which reminds me. Here a few things you must keep in mind when you are around me or another testicular cancer survivor.
1-If you are ever golfing with me and I slice a drive into the rough…Never ask, Hey Hogrefe you know where your ball went?
2-When I hit my second shot on that first hole and lay my 8 iron on the green 10 feet from the hole…Never yell from across the fairway…“ HOGREFE…NICE BALL”
3-When you are sitting at a poker table with me and I’m holding the Ace, King of Hearts and I flop a flush…Never say when the hand is complete… “Hogrefe flopped the nuts”
4-Never when you coach a football game with me…Come into the halftime angry and tell your team to play balls out in the 2nd half….
5-When I am watching a baseball game with you and I ask the count…Don’t be a smartass and reply two strikes and one ball…
All joking aside, this was some serious shit. After that day in January, I had successful surgery to remove the tumor and testicle. The problem was, the two tumor markers in my blood hadn’t fully returned to normal. In other words, somewhere in my body there were still some looming cancer cells. The plan was to monitor the levels for the next 6 weeks to see if the counts would return to normal. I still remember giving blood often on Thursdays for those six weeks and then eagerly calling the office the following Monday to hear the results. Unfortunately, the news on those Mondays was never the news we wanted to hear. Finally, when the 6th week approached, Lynn, the Dr. and I knew it was time to find an Oncologist.
Now it hit me. I was scheduling chemotherapy and looking at the calendar of when to start. My parents had already lost a son to cancer in 1979, the year before I was born, when my 5-year-old brother Jeff lost his battle with Leukemia. I was determined to give my family a victory this time around.
I was excited to get this over with, fight it, beat it and return to normal. And that’s exactly what we did! I underwent 3 rounds of BEP chemotherapy from February-April 2008. As any survivor knows, there were ups and downs during that stretch of time. I have had the opportunity to speak/mentor some other guys that are embarking on the same journey that I traveled. My advice is simple. STAY POSITIVE, roll with the punches, AND FIGHT!
Things slowly began to return to normal that first year. Although my hair came back blonde and curly, it too returned to normal over time! Nearly two years to the day after my last chemo treatment, Lynn and I returned to the same hospital. This time we were welcoming our first daughter Madelyn on April 21st, 2010. PROOF… That all you need is one!
It was on my three year CT scan in April of 2010 that we encountered another hiccup. I was informed that my CT scan showed two enlarged lymph nodes. As it turned out, there was a type of cell in the original testicular cancer that doesn’t respond to chemotherapy. This cell is called teratoma. Now teratomas are good in the sense that they do not metastasize, in other words they stay to themselves. On the other hand, they continue to grow, could turn into other types of cancer and need to be removed. The lymph nodes were located adjacent to my aorta and near my spine and would require obvious invasive surgery to be removed. Lynn and I started the journey to find the right doctor to perform the Retroperitoneal Lymph Node Dissection (RPLND).
Our first trip was to Indiana University. We all as testicular cancer survivors should be proud of the facility that is located there in Bloomington. It was there I was able to meet Doctor Lawrence Einhorn, one of the men responsible for creating the chemo concoction that helped save many of our lives. What a powerful moment it was to say, “thank you” to a man responsible for helping save your life. This was a fantastic place but I chose, however, to have the nerve sparing procedure performed closer to home at the University of Chicago by Doctor Scott Eggener. I can’t say enough about him and the staff there at the University of Chicago. I was not prepared for how painful this surgery proved to be. But like chemotherapy, I attacked it, beat it and returned to normal over time.
There are so many people to give thanks for all the nice gestures over the past 4 years. My loving wife and family, my caring friends, my co-workers and second family at Fremd High school, my doctors and nurses, my instructor at Northern Illinois University who demanded we self-exam, the list goes on and on. The people who I feel deserve the most thanks are those that have donated to research over the years. With the help of these selfless people, our road to recovery was so much easier than those who went through the same thing years before I did. It is that reason that I feel the need to pay it forward. This year, the 4th annual “1 Ball Pub Crawl” will be looking to eclipse $45,000 raised for cancer research and awareness. We always love to have fellow 1 ball survivors and their friends to share in the fun. Mark your calendars for Sat June 23rd 2012 in Chicago IL.
Join the fight, help raise money and raise awareness in the fight of all types of cancer!!!!
“Cancer may take our hair and our balls, but it can’t take our sense of humor or our spirit” -Jason Hogrefe
Third Annual One Ball Pub Crawl 2011