Survivor Spotlight: Joey Berardi
My name is Joey Berardi. I am 25 years old and live in the suburbs outside of Philly. A few weeks ago, I reached my one-year mark of being diagnosed with Testicular Cancer and want to share my journey.
A few years back, I had thought I noticed a small lump on one of my testicles. Alarmed, I made a doctor’s appointment the following morning. I was sent to a urologist and had an ultrasound (what a strange experience in and of itself). The results showed absolutely no abnormalities, relieving my concerns. My urologist (Doctor Gabale), said we should monitor it yearly and for pain, and to call with any issues. Boy did I think I was in the clear.
A few months later, I had some minor pain in that same testicle. I brushed it off as nothing, thinking I was still clear. Exactly ONE year later, after the first ultrasound, I was in extreme discomfort. It hurt to sit, workout, and got to the point where even standing was uncomfortable. A few days later, I noticed a very large lump, unlike before. In a tearful conversation, I finally explained to my girlfriend what has been going on for the past few weeks. I was simply embarrassed and terrified it would affect my ability to have children. I went back to my urologist, had another ultrasound, and at the follow-up appointment, the worst-case scenario struck.
I went to the appointment by myself, thinking I was going to be fine due to the appointment exactly a year prior. To my shock, Doctor Gabale was very confident after the physical exam and review of the second ultrasound that I had testicular cancer. The growth of the tumor in a year surprised even him. Luckily for me it was in my mind that something was wrong, and I acted on it just in time. This appointment was on a Tuesday, and he scheduled surgery for that Thursday. Only two days later. I was devastated. I was alone. The receptionist gave me a glass of water and I kind of just sat there for a few minutes. First, I tried calling my Dad. I called five times with no answer. This made me even more emotional and panicked. Finally, he called me back. We were both speechless and did not know what to say. Then I called my girlfriend, with the same results. She was in class. I tear up now even thinking of that conversation. I drove home by myself, incredibly emotional. My Mom, Dad, and girlfriend all met me at my house. I still hadn’t fully reacted to it. That afternoon, I went to get bloodwork to check for tumor markers. I began to mentally prepare for what was going to happen over the next few days.
I am a bartender and college student. I was scheduled to work that Wednesday and had to call my boss and explain what was going on. We are very close and he was just as speechless as my family was. He offered whatever I needed and as much time as I needed to handle everything. I am very lucky to have been able to have that ability. Wednesday flew by. I worked out, had a nice dinner, and just relaxed.
Thursday was a blur. I entered Doylestown Hospital around 11 am, with surgery scheduled for 1 pm. Doctor Gabale came in and spoke with me and my family before surgery. He explained that the best-case scenario was all the cancer was confined in the tumor and surgery would be enough. He was very confident from the beginning and I had tons of faith I would be okay. Going with the motions, time went on and I was put to sleep for the surgery. I woke up in a little pain. It is still interesting how the surgery is done. I got home hopped up on painkillers and my family ordered pizza. A cousin stopped by to check on me. After everyone went to bed, I had my girlfriend walk me to the bathroom and take a picture so I could see. I was appalled. It was so weird to see it. Mentally you aren’t ready for that. But I can tell you now, a year later, you don’t even notice. It is more comfortable if anything!!!
I had a CT scan the following week to check my lymph nodes and lungs. A week went by waiting for the lab results from the tumor and CT scan. Doctor Gabale called me the following Wednesday morning to explain the findings. It was a pure embryonal carcinoma, one of the faster spreading and rarer types. Fortunate or unfortunate, the cancer had just begun spreading out into the lymph system. Luckily, I was just in time. It had not made it into my lymph nodes or lungs yet. A matter of weeks could have made a difference. Doctor Gabale recommended me to see an oncologist at the Asplundh Cancer Center, named Doctor Patel. That meeting came a few weeks later once recovered.
Recovery from the surgery wasn’t great. My incision took forever to heal, and I dealt with pain longer than I expected. I have no interest in taking painkillers, so all I used was Advil and a few ‘natural’ remedies. After about a month, I was about 90% back to normal.
I spent the following week researching the absolute hell out of my condition. Day and night, I was nose deep in medical journals, treatment options, and all kinds of anything. Continuing with the oncologist, Doctor Patel gave me three options. One was to do one cycle of BEP chemotherapy now. Do it and don’t think about it and potentially have the best result where the cancer is eliminated from my body. Option two was to have CT scans, blood work, and chest X-rays every 3 months for 2 years, then every 6 months, then yearly, and essentially wait for it to pop up somewhere. Option 3 was RPLND surgery with the same follow-ups. She questioned my research and noticed I was pretty well informed. She was impressed. Without much thought, I accepted my fate of chemotherapy. Anything to avoid RPLND surgery which I had no interest in. This time was around mid-May. Chemotherapy was scheduled to begin June 17th, at the end of my current class and start of Summer break.
I healed up to make it back to work for a few weeks. The bar I work at is very close with one another and the support from them was awesome. I started cutting my hair short to adjust for the possibility of losing it. I was comfortable with my decision and tried not to think about it for as long as I could. But inevitably, the time came. The schedule started with Monday June 17th, and I would receive chemo every day that week. The following two weeks I would receive chemo on Mondays, and then it would be over.
I was starting to get scared. I was getting extremely worried financially, due to costs of care and being out of work for a few months. Luckily, I lived at home still and didn’t have to pay rent. However, I had school bills, car payments, and insurance, and I needed to have a tooth fixed before starting chemo. My girlfriend secretly started a GoFundMe and I found it being shared around Facebook one morning. I was overwhelmed. I did not feel like I could accept the money from people. I was angry. I didn’t know how to react. I calmed down, realizing these people were helping because they care about me. I am still so very grateful to them all. But that wasn’t it. My girlfriend is amazing. The Friday before I started, a couple of buddies asked me to golf. I wasn’t feeling it but decided to go anyway. Afterward, they said they wanted to grab a beer. I was supposed to catch dinner with my girlfriend that night, but she said to go have a beer first. They picked a weird spot to go, but I rolled with it. Little did I know, I was pulling up to a surprise benefit. My girlfriend arranged all of my friends, family, and her family in a big field. There was beer, food, games, raffles, and so much more. I was in total awe. Shocked. Happy.
A thing few people discuss is having to freeze sperm. There is that ultimate fear of not being fertile after chemotherapy. I began researching resources for testicular cancer and came across Livestrong. They helped me partner with a reproductive health center and I chose RMA in King of Prussia. They were very helpful and made a sad process really easy. My counts were already low, but I have enough frozen to confidently be able to have kids one day, one way or another. It is an incredibly awkward experience, but just something you have to do before receiving chemotherapy.
Chemo day came and that week blew bye. I was sick, tired, and in pain. I argued against getting a port because I didn’t want another surgery. Every day that I received treatment I had a new IV put in. I hated it. Every day I hated it. You get good meds for nausea, but you still get sick. I slept almost 24 hours a day and barely ate. The first week was horrible. By the middle of the second week, I started feeling a little better. I got bloodwork done every Monday and Friday to check blood counts and WBC counts. Everything was very low. I wasn’t sleeping at night (constant waking up and tossing) and was prescribed (to my disliking) something to help with that. By the 3rd week, my hair started to fall out and it didn’t really bother me. My girlfriend was lint-rolling her scrubs one day and I grabbed the lint roller and started rubbing it on my head and chest and filled it with hair. I laughed, but she didn’t enjoy it as much as me.
When I tell you this all went by so incredibly fast, that still feels like an understatement. You really have no time to react or accept what is happening. You are extremely emotional but need to be a damn warrior and fight it like hell. Being strong and positive makes the experience so much easier than if you are down and gloomy about it. That is why today I love sharing my story. It is a feat of strength and perseverance, and something to be proud of.
A year later, after tons of bloodwork, CT scans, and X-rays, I am totally healthy. It is humbling to look back at the past year and be so thankful for life and all of the people that are part of it. However, this is when it started to kick into my brain. I began accepting what happened and struggled with a wave of depression. I don’t know why now, but I had to accept it and let myself be treated for it. I started taking medicine and after a few months feel so much better.
I have shared my story enough to already help a few guys with their diagnosis and fight. My cousin is a seven-year survivor and helped me through my journey, so it is my duty to repay that ability to others. As I have survived, my purpose is no longer fighting. My purpose is to help others make it through their fight. I am thankful for all the people in my life that helped me get through my battle with testicular cancer.
Please if you need someone to talk to, feel free to reach out to me on Twitter or Instagram and we can connect.
Fight hard. Reach out for help. Don’t be scared. The Minus One Gang will help you get through this.