A young man's cancer journey: A balancing act

This blog is the first in a series about young adults with cancer.Just this past Christmas, when all the family was gathered to celebrate, I was talking with my cousin Joel and his wife Christine. I had started my job at CURE the previous month and as Joel had finished chemo the year prior, I was giving them an update of sorts about what I do. And Joel asked me if there are any days to honor testicular cancer survivors. We were all aware of breast cancer awareness month and prostate cancer awareness campaigns, but Joel asked if there was a day just for him. I told him I would find out.And it just so happens, that there's not just one day, but an entire week at the beginning of April dedicated to testicular cancer awareness. The beginning of April also marks the Young Adults with Cancer Awareness Week, so I told Joel the week doubly belonged to him.In May 2009, Joel started noticing something was wrong. He was working on finishing his masters and recently got engaged. He felt it was awkward to talk about, so he kept his misgivings to himself and didn't go see a doctor right away. He went in for tests, got an ultrasound, but cancer still wasn't something he was thinking about.The ultrasound came back, and he describes it being like "a kid had drawn on it with a black marker"--it looked bad. The diagnosis was testicular cancer, and he needed surgery ASAP. Before he had time to process the diagnosis, he was being asked what he had for lunch and if surgery at six would work.He had the surgery on a Thursday--his first major surgery--and went to pre-marital counseling that weekend. Over the next few months it was a similar juggling act. His oncologist recommended chemo, but Joel wanted a second opinion. So he and Christine went to M.D. Anderson in Houston for an appointment and drove back to Dallas that night to attend a Coldplay concert to celebrate his 22nd birthday.He and Christine were married in September of that year, in the midst of the chemo treatments. He says he hated that he had no hair in all of their wedding photos. The honeymoon was pretty much spent sitting in the oncology waiting room. But the experience did offer a chance for him and Christine to grow closer together while their relationship was still young.And where is Joel now? He and Christine got to take a honeymoon to St. Lucia a few months after Joel's chemo treatments ended. Joel graduated with his masters and has a new job. He and Christine also have a new puppy. He still gets scans once or twice a year now. While Joel admits that at times it was painful and scary, he believes his experience with cancer has helped him to gain perspective on life, to appreciate the love and support of his family and friends, and to be able to relate to others who are in similar situations.And although Joel's story feels very unique to me because he's my cousin and it's a unique experience for him, it's still similar to other young adult survivors (particularly testicular cancer survivors, which generally hits young men) in the challenges he faced and overcame.