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Matthew Ode (Testicular Cancer Survivor)

Matthew Ode (Testicular Cancer Survivor)

Throughout my life, I have always been active and healthy. I exercised regularly and was focused on eating the right food. I was 24 years old when I started having back pain that was getting worse every day. When you are that young, you have the mindset that you are invincible and tend to take any messages from your body lightly. That is what I was doing with my symptoms too.

The pain kept getting worse, and one night I vomited blood. I was rushed to the emergency, and the doctors discovered that I had lost two-thirds of the blood circulating in my body. That was equal to getting shot. So they immediately arranged for a blood transfusion, and I was given six bags of blood. 

Following the transfusion, I had surgery because the doctors did not know where the bleeding was. The next day when the doctor visited me, I was hoping that he would say I was okay and could go home, but the news I received was the opposite. The doctor told me that they discovered an 11 cm tumor in my small intestine, but they were unsure if it was cancer.

The initial diagnosis and the effect it had on me

I had to be shifted to the main campus of the Cleveland Clinic because the current hospital did not have the facilities for testing. At the Cleveland Clinic, multiple tests were done, and I was diagnosed with the highest cancer stage. The cancer had also spread to other parts of my body, including two areas of my kidneys and lungs. The weird part about my diagnosis is that 95% of testicular cancer patients experience symptoms in their testicles, but I had no such signs. 

Throughout this process, only my parents knew what was going on, and I decided that the best thing I could do was to keep my thoughts and emotions to myself. Looking back, I realize that that is one of the most harmful things I could've done. I had bottled up my feelings for almost a week and finally broke down when my girlfriend visited me at the hospital after the diagnosis. 

My family's history of cancer

I feel that one of the reasons I happened to have had cancer is because of my family history of the disease. My grandfather was a prostate cancer patient, but he wanted to avoid medical help and have a more holistic approach to the disease. This decision did not help much and, unfortunately, cost him his life. 

Apart from him, I also had great-grandparents who had their share of cancers, although I am not sure about their types. None of my family members had testicular cancer, and since I was a very healthy person, this was news to us. 

Our emotional and mental well-being when we heard the news

My parents were the first ones to hear the news and were very emotional and distraught. I had only ever seen my father cry one or two times in my life, and when he cried, hearing the news, made me think that I needed to stay strong and not break down for their sake too. I realized later that I needed to express my feelings and emotions so that it does not affect my health.

My fiance, I believe, was an angel sent to me during those challenging times. While going through her emotional journey, she made sure that it did not affect me in any way. She made sure she had a safe space to express her emotions away from me and, at the same time, was always there for me while I went through difficult times.

Chemotherapy to treat cancer

I went through a type of chemotherapy called the BEP. Usually, with this treatment, patients only have to go through four rounds for their parameters to come back to normal. But, since my cancer had spread to different parts of the body, the doctors suggested five rounds of this treatment. 

The side effects of the chemotherapy were adverse. I had gone from a person who weighed 185 pounds to someone who was around 130 pounds. I mainly experienced fatigue which took a toll on my physical and mental health. I had to ensure I was taking my nausea medication on time, or else it would make me even more tired. 

Surgeries I went through to remove tumors

Unfortunately for me, chemotherapy was the easy part of the treatment. I had to have surgery to remove the tumors in my body. This surgery was very common for patients with advanced stages of cancer, and one of the after-effects of the surgery was swelling all over my body. 

The doctor inserted a tube attached to a bag and told me the fluids would drain, and the swelling would go down in a few weeks. A week and a half later, the draining stopped and I experienced immense pain and was admitted back to the hospital, where they drained 7 liters of fluid. This resulted in kidney and liver failure, and I went into a non-induced coma. 

I ended up being in the ICU for forty days, and I had a catheter inserted in my brain, chest, and neck to monitor the swelling. After I recovered from the coma, the doctors attempted to remove the catheter from my chest, which sent me into cardiac arrest. The doctors had to perform eight minutes of CPR to bring me back to life. In two weeks, I had to have five surgeries and relearn how to walk and recover from the after-effects of the surgery.

Practices and motivation that kept me going through the process

I experienced a lot of ups and downs when I was going through the treatment. I had a four-year-old dog that also had cancer while I was under treatment. Initially, it was like having a best friend who was there to go through this journey with you, but he died soon after. 

These experiences, coupled with treatment, were a rollercoaster ride for me, and I had to make sure I focused on one day at a time to get myself through the process. A few things I learned to practice was not to stress about the little things in life. Instead of wondering why I got the disease when I took good care of myself, I started to understand that life happens sometimes, and I had to accept it.

The events in life happen for us and not to us. This mindset helped me understand the bigger things in life instead of spiraling into a depressive cycle. Another thing that kept me grounded was my faith. I prayed every day to manifest what I wanted to be after the treatment, and it gave me a purpose. 

My message to people going through this journey

It is very easy for people to get caught up in everything going on in their lives. It is essential to focus on the thing in front of you and take one step at a time. We will worry about what is next and how we will manage the situation, but make sure there are people around who will go through it with you. Having a support system and putting your head in the right place will take you a long way.

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