Survivor Spotlight: Rocco Buccheri
You have no balls… I do not know how many times in my life I have heard that statement, it has to be thousands of times. Every single in reference is based on the idea of me not being macho enough, or not having the guts to take on a challenge. I’m not saying that I am a wimp, but men tend to challenge each other’s “testicular fortitude” for basically anything.
Taken literally most people don’t really think about that statement, but for me, a bilateral testicular cancer survivor, this is a fact of life.
I was diagnosed the first time, on February 7th, 2007. At 22 years old, and in college, the last thing on my mind was cancer, so as you could imagine this diagnosis hit like a ton of bricks. I will never forget the moment, sitting in my Urologist’s office, (at that age I do not even think I knew what a Urologist was) he was telling me that I had cancer, I was in such shock, the doctor had to call my parents to explain the situation. Speechless, the doctor explained to me what the next steps were, and he noted how from the start that this cancer can be beaten. Moments after my diagnosis he was giving percentage chances of survival at 90+%.
Lucky, for me I had only felt the lump down there three days earlier, a simple self-examination. I cannot express how important my next actions were. Like I said early, at the age of 22, I could have felt the lump, and went on with my life, at that age any man basically feels indestructible, so it was pretty obvious that cancer was not on my mind. However something did not sit right with me, and I made the decision to not wait, I was in my primary care physicians office the next morning, and two days later I was in with the urologist, and by February 9th, I was having surgery to remove one of my testicles.
Seeing that this was such a quick turn around, I got even luckier to find out that my cancer had not spread, it was localized to the testicle and there was no need for chemotherapy or radiation. My treatment plan was to start a comprehensive tracking program to make sure the cancer did not come back. In the first year, monthly blood work checks, x-rays and cat scans; second year every-other month, and so on. I was told that at five years you are considered cancer free, and have a clean bill of health. I was starting a long progress of being in a doctor’s office way more than I ever wanted, but I knew it had to be done.
That takes us to May 5th of 2010. My wife and I (at the time we were just dating), had completed the inspection on the home we were about to purchase the night before. I had the engagement ring ready to go for the first moment we were alone in the house together, it was a joyous time, and then I felt a lump again. I did not wait, within hours I was at my urologist’s office (this time I knew what that doctor treated) and was being told, you have testicular cancer again.
Being told the second time that you have been diagnosed with testicular cancer was harder than the first. I had been in a comprehensive plan to track and make sure it didn’t come back, and questions lingered. How would I start a family? What does this mean for my sex life? If we had been tracking it so diligently, how did this happen? Has the cancer spread this time? Without a doubt, the most mentally exhausting moment of my young life.
This time around things didn’t move as quickly. The day I saw my urologist I was told in order to have a family I would have to cryogenically freeze my sperm. I would have to perform the act multiple times on multiple different days so that the center for reproductive services would have enough. I was also told that with the removal of my second testicle, I would not produce testosterone, and as such I would need to start and continue through the rest of my life testosterone replacement therapy. On May 28, 2010 I had surgery to remove my second testicle, and shortly thereafter I was told that again the cancer did not spread. Phewww! However in order to really make sure things were not going to come back my oncologist suggested one round of strong chemotherapy. Like the first time I was diagnosed I sought a second opinion, but unlike the first time I was given a different option.
My second opinion physician suggested that chemotherapy was one of a number of options, but tracking the disease as we did the first time would also be an option. This was without a doubt the hardest decision I had to make. I chose to not go through chemotherapy and track my disease just as we did the first time. I am still counting the days to May 28th, 2015 (so close).
Being diagnosed with testicular cancer or any type of cancer is a struggle. It drains you physically and emotionally, it stresses family members and friends, and it makes you question some of the bigger picture in life.
As I mentioned earlier at the same time I was diagnosed I was ready to propose to my then girlfriend, and ready to buy a house. I was also working on my Master’s Degree in Business Administration. Quite the busy time for me. It wasn’t until maybe 18 months later in which not having any balls really impacted my life. Lynne and I had been happily married for about six months, and were thinking about starting a family. In pure honesty, for most married couples these is an easy decision on when, and soon after that many couples are pregnant. For us it was completely different. We were faced with the challenge of when to start In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), and the cost of it.
After finding out that this type of treatment was not covered under either of our insurances, my wife and I had to decide how to pay for the $16,000.00 for the treatment. With both of us fairly young in our careers and being home owners, the money was not just there for us to go and spend. For three years we grappled with the financial responsibility of attempting to have a child, throughout the process a number of married friends and family made wonderful announcements that they were expecting. This is mentally draining for a couple who wants to have children but cannot afford it. It is like being completely torn as you are incredibly excited for your friends, but completely upset that it wasn’t you.
Finally after making some incredible tough decisions, in September of 2013 we decided to go for it, the IVF was paid for and the medications where in our hand. However going through IVF does not mean any guarantees of having a baby. The process of going through IVF is painful and tireless for a woman. I believe that my wife went through more pain and discomfort than I ever did with surgeries or any testing; IVF requires that you to inject your wife with multiple medications on a daily basis for almost two and a half months. It requires multiple procedures for the women, including the harvesting of eggs, and placement of embryos. Once an embryo is placed it is a waiting game.
One of the biggest decisions a couple has to make when choosing to proceed with IVF is how many embryos they want to put “in.” In our situation we decided to place two healthy embryos. This means that if both take than we would be blessed with twins. Many IVF places will even put more in, but the best places are ones that provide a high pregnancy rate with only a placement of one or two embryos. Our treatment at the University of Connecticut Center for Reproductive Services in our state had the highest success rate with only placing one or two embryos.
Now to the good news, approximately a month after the placement of the embryos we found out Lynne was pregnant, we also found out that only one of the two placed embryos made it, we were expecting once child, what a blessing!
As a man, to be diagnosed with testicular cancer twice, provides itself with a number of different challenges. The reality of my disease is with me every day; however, I consider myself incredibly lucky. I have read and learned about many people who have been diagnosed with the same disease and because of the situation had to treat with chemotherapy and radiation, and of course, a number of men will die from this disease even with today’s advanced medicine and treatment.
Our son Joseph Anthony Buccheri is now 8 months old, and is the greatest thing that has ever happened to us. If I can provide any advice to anyone who is reading this, is that the mental part of going through the thought of treatment and cancer has been the toughest part, even harder to deal with was the mental anxiety and anguish of attempting to start a family. However, any survivor reading this can know, that no matter how down you are about it, the next time someone says “you have no balls,” you can smile and laugh knowing that in fact that no matter what, you do, and you should be proud of it.
Also check out Rocco’s story that was featured on the local news.