Survivor Spotlight: Eric Mendelson
Testicular Cancer at 20?
The only thing on my mind was school starting. I had just received straight A’s, made a lot of new friends and was looking forward to getting an internship in the spring. It was less than a week before the spring semester would start and I was looking forward to going back to school.
I woke up just like any other day during winter-cold. Usually when I am cold, I stick my hands in my pants since most of my sweatpants do not have pockets. I noticed a small lump I had never felt before in my left testicle. This bump was not huge and did not cause me any pain. I told myself if I still felt it in a week I would notify my parents. The next night at dinner my brother asked my mom about a rash he had on his leg. She thought it might be herpes and suggested he get checked immediately. Since we were on the subject, I told her about the small bump. She told me to see a doctor before I went back to school.
The next day I went to the pediatrician (yes, I still go to the pediatrician). He had a hard time finding it but as soon as he felt it recommended I see a urologist immediately. He had no idea what it was but assured me there was something there. I was to see a urologist the next day to finally find out what this mass was. I will never forget sitting on my mom’s bed the night before. We were talking about my appointment and she asked me if I was scared. Usually I would say no, but for some reason my stomach didn’t feel good about this. She assured me that everything was fine and that this was probably just an infection. I agreed with her because I did not want to worry her, but that night my worst fears were not even close to the reality.
As soon as I got to the urologist’s office, my urologist requested I take a pee test to see if it was an infection or kidney stones. I had just urinated so I told him that he would have to wait. He asked me to show him the mass and I would do the test after. I showed him the bump and as soon as he felt it he left the room. He got on the phone and I heard him say “I don’t care if you are booked today, you NEED to see this kid! It’s an emergency”. He told me I would need an ultrasound to determine whether or not this mass was just a cyst or a scar or if it was a tumor. I tried to not think the worst but I started to get scared. I saw the screen while I was getting my ultrasound and noticed a black circle on my left testicle. I tried to keep calm, but it was getting harder and harder. I would bring the ultrasound results back to my urologist who would give me the horrible news.
My urologist, Dr. Bloom, sat me down and told me “There’s no easy way to tell you...but you have a malignant tumor on your left testicle that is cancerous. You will need to have surgery to remove your testicle”. No one in their life ever expects to hear they have cancer, but not having any family present was even more difficult. I told Dr. Bloom that he had to call my parents and let them know, there was no way I could ever tell them “I have cancer”. Hearing my parents’ reaction to that might be the hardest thing I have ever dealt with in my life.
It took me about ten hours for me to process I had cancer. Word spread so fast that people were calling and texting me all day to talk to me and to show their support. I received so much comfort right away that it was not until I was in my bed that night by myself that it hit me. I had cancer.
Nobody expects to get cancer, but I thought my case was very unique. I was 20 years old, worked out twice a day, ate very healthy, and had no family history of cancer. I never thought that anything would ever happen to me, that I was impervious to harm. I would need an orchiectomy and not be able to workout or lift anything over ten pounds for six weeks. This recovery time was especially hard for me. I can’t explain how hard it is to be so active one week and the next week, barely able to walk.
The recovery period was a changing point for me in my life. Not being able to attend school, exercise, or do anything pretty much limits how much you can do. A lot of my days were spent thinking about a variety of things. Having cancer affected me mentally as much as it did physically, it really changes who you are and your outlook on life. I told myself that after the six week recovery period was over that I wanted to be a different person. Although my life was not in jeopardy, it certainly changed my viewpoint on life. I cut out people in my life who I did not think were beneficial to me and changed my demeanor. I was always and still am a very generous and nice person. However, in the past I would sometimes allow people to walk all over me (partially because I’m only 5’5”). Coming out of this, I had the mindset that I just BEAT cancer and I would not let people disrespect me the way before. I also told myself that when the doctor told me I was cancer-free that I would get a tattoo to show my accomplishment as a reminder everyday that I beat cancer.
It has been a little over four months since my diagnosis and I could not picture my life being better. I am surrounded by amazing friends and family who constantly check up on me and make me feel appreciated. I continue to workout twice a day and am almost in as good shape as I was before surgery. Most people who find out I had cancer are very surprised because of how I look now and the energy I have.
What’s in store for me now? I am heading into my senior year at Towson and am pursuing a sport management degree. I have to get frequent blood work, CT scans, and X-rays for the next four years with lessening frequency each year. I believe sometimes in life we have a revelation that lets us know we need change in our lives. I was never expecting cancer in my life, but I had to make the most of the unfortunate situation I was handed. I wake up everyday and feel blessed because I know not everyone is guaranteed tomorrow.