Twenty-year-old men think they are invincible. They wake up each morning thinking that nothing can stop them and that is one of the best feelings in the world.
I was one of those twenty-year-old men, and I woke up each morning feeling exactly that way. You could even say I flirted with the line that separates confidence and cockiness.
After a night of doing what a college kid does best, I slowly woke up with the morning sun on my face, groping for Advil and whichever half-empty bottle of water I could reach without having to get out of bed. I stretched, yawned and scratched myself where every male scratches himself in the morning. That’s when I noticed that one of my testicles was much bigger than the other.
It didn’t hurt, but my first thought was that I might have had more to drink the night before than I thought and gotten hit in the crotch somehow. Laying there with the “Sunday scaries” creeping up, I decided to call the old man for advice. We decided I would ask the doctor to take a look at it during my appointment that Friday, which was to clear me for shoulder surgery – one that I’d pushed off for way too long and had become impatient to get over and done with.
Friday rolled around, and I was looking forward to getting in and out of the doctor’s office quickly so that I could enjoy a day of cancelled classes. Classes weren’t technically cancelled. but I’d already decided it was a perfect beach day; so, for me they were. Little did I realize that Friday morning would be the last time I’d wake up feeling invincible, at least for a long while.
I passed the physical with flying colors and as my doctor was walking out the door, I remembered that I wanted her to look at my testicle. She told me to drop the pants so she could have a look. After about a minute of examining my rather large and hard ball, she took off her gloves and said, “I want you to get an ultrasound on it, right away. Drive to the hospital around the corner and I will send them the paper work.”
I drove over to the hospital relieved that I’d at least be able to get a note for missing classes and really could go to the beach without having to worry about coming up with an excuse. It seemed that everything was working out in my favor.
The ultrasound was done in a dark room by a young nurse. I think she was new because she seemed pretty nervous while doing it, but I thought it was rather funny. After what felt like an eternity, she told me to clean up the gel covering my testicles and said the doctor would be right in.
She closed the curtain but forgot to close the door behind her, and I heard her tell the doctor that she’d never seen something like this before. I give her credit for keeping herself pretty composed while she was doing the ultrasound since she’d never seen something like my golf ball-sized testicle before. The doctor walked in, took a look at the scans for about two seconds and said, “Okay Stephen, I’m going to have you go back to your doctor and I will send her the paper work.”
I got dressed and started to drive back to my doctor’s office. I wasn’t even half way there when my doctor called and said, “I need you to go to the urologist right by the hospital.” I said okay and asked when I should go. She responded very sternly, “NOW. They’re squeezing you in.”
At that point, I have to admit that my superman attitude was becoming a little shaky. I walked into this urologist’s office – not even knowing what a urologist does – and a nurse asked if I was Stephen Labay. I said yes, and she took me right into a room. I was thinking, “Wow… urologists have the best service EVER!” I sat down, and the nurse took some blood and told me the doctor would be right in.
I waited for what felt like hours. Finally, the doctor came in, shook my hand and introduced himself. Then he said, “Stephen, I want to be straight up with you. You have cancer.” He said it so confidently and quickly I didn’t have much time to comprehend it. So, I asked, “What do we do now?” and then it hit me.
I don’t know what he said after that, but I did hear the words “surgery” and “today.” My family had no idea what was going on. As far as they knew, I was getting cleared for shoulder surgery. I told him that we couldn’t do it today because my family would need to come down, and he agreed that it would have to wait until Monday. I drive home, not even able to think about what was happening and had to call my parents and tell them. That is when it hit me that I, Stephen Labay, was not Superman.
That Friday was the last morning I woke up feeling young and invincible…until one morning, months later when I woke up, scratched my one testicle and realized that I AM young and invincible. I’d received a cancer diagnosis, had my testicle removed and had five years of blood tests, CT scans and chest x-rays at the cancer center ahead of me, but I was alive.
I have to admit that realizing that was in part because of my family and friends. They’d kept me laughing and reminded me that I wasn’t alone. My favorite memory from this whole process was my friend Tyler’s reply when I told him I had cancer: About 15 minutes after I told him, he walked up to me and said, “Tell me if I’m crossing the line here, but can I call you Lance or Uno?” I laughed so hard at that my testicle almost dropped out right then and there. At that moment I started thinking that everything would be okay. My advice to anyone who finds themselves in a similar situation is to make sure you’ve got your Tyler right there beside you.
Being diagnosed with cancer is one bad situation, but the thing I learned and what I still carry with me to this day is to make the most out of every single bad situation. I needed help from everyone around me to really understand this life lesson, but now that I understand it, I can help teach others how to do the same.