The Way Cancer Has Shaped Me

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Looking back on my experience with testicular cancer at a young age, I realize that cancer didn't define me — it helped shape me.

Illustration of a man with blond hair and rectangular glasses wearing a black t-shirt, smiling.

My personal experience brought to life the all-pervading turbulence of testicular cancer. A harrowing impact on a youth. Turns out, that there was only one question for me: how to go about living? During this time, my mind had the capacity to understand the force of cancer and the limits of humans to affect outcomes, but I was not prepared for what it would do to my mental state of health.

At times, the culmination of pure exhaustion left me crumpled in bed. How could I continue with the daily routine? I was 20 years old, so I decided to concentrate on sleep, running, eating and studying. And that was OK, sometimes. It taught me that life’s simple pleasures can be a routine; going into auto-pilot wasn’t a bad thing.

After running ten extra miles each week and a few sleepless nights along the way, I decided I needed a goal, which was to run a marathon. Feeling better and cancer-free was what I wanted. My strategy was to start by learning the fundamentals of my body and nurturing it. I did worry that every little ache and pain meant the cancer was back. Those days when I was in and out of my cancer testing, I was always pushing my limits and trying to get back to where I once was as an athlete.

Several months of stretching my running distances and being given “clear” signals from my doctors gave me confidence in understanding what my body was telling me. I got around to confronting my running habits. I remembered Coach Mac from my high school days always saying, “Sluga, Keep your arms down! Forge ahead!”

My social circle remained a constant source of inspiration and encouragement. I kept my business of knowing where I was going to myself. I tossed away all the grudges and all the negativity that overwhelmed my life. I came to realize not everyone needed to know about my cancer survivorship. I was like a tree. I nourished myself every day and grew.

Not everyone saw how much I grew, but I did and learned that friends and family helped me become positive.

After all these years, that familiar feeling I once had during my freshman year of college has come back. That feeling of power and health. Health, not only in my body but in my mind. My faith as a Christian helped me know I was never alone. Through the years I have seen the sun going down at the end of the day. Like the sun I may be down but will rise tomorrow. God’s grace helped me understand that I was not defeated.

I learned life goes on, and not as I had planned on making my own decisions and that taking risks were part of the plan. I did fail at times. I changed my college major five times over ten years and partied more than I care to admit. It was all about trying to find meaning in life. I ended up discovering my gut instinct (God) doesn’t lie.

It led me to believe in myself and my abilities. I could set lofty goals and achieve them. Trust yourself!

In contemplating the way I have become, I realized cancer did not define me, but it shaped me. I have a grand lifetime of being with great supportive friends, family, colleagues and the love of my life. That’s not such a terrible position to be in. Oh, and anyway, I'm learning more every day and still growing like a palm tree.

Readers, reflect on how you coped during recovery from illness:

  • Have you set goals?
  • Did you go into auto-pilot?
  • Are you still there or taking calculated risks?
  • What failures have taught you the most?

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