A pair of operations and follow-up chemotherapy put me on the road to surviving testicular cancer, but I wasn’t home free. The third in a four-part series on Paul Arco's memories of testicular cancer.

 

A pair of operations and follow-up chemotherapy put me on the road to surviving testicular cancer, but I wasn’t home free.

My cancerous right testicle was a memory, but a softball-sized mass in my abdominal cavity hadn’t been affected by the chemo and it had to come out. When doctors in Rockford could do no more, we decided to continue treatment at Indiana University Hospital in Indianapolis, where doctors were confident they could perform the needed surgery.

In April 2008, I met with oncologist Dr. Stephen Williams and urology/oncology surgeon Dr. Richard Foster. We would opt for a Retroperitoneal Lymph Node Dissection, a procedure to remove abdominal lymph nodes to treat testicular cancer, as well as establish its exact stage and type.

My surgery was set for June 5. I couldn’t sleep the night before.

Four hours after going to bed, I got up to write a letter to my son, Sam. I was petrified that I wouldn’t make it through.

The note was brief, telling him how proud I was to be his father and that I would always be there for him.

Had I told him enough? Well, it was enough for now.

An hour later, I was walking from the hotel to the hospital through a tunnel joining the buildings.

I felt like I was walking to my execution.

Pre-op was a flurry of inserting an IV, administering a relaxant and a blood draw. My wife, Shauna; my brother, Al; and my father-in-law, Shaun Yunk, were with me while the anesthesiologist explained what he would use during the procedure. They wheeled me to the operating room about 6:30 a.m.

I woke up after the three-hour surgery to an 11 ½-inch incision from my breast bone down past my belly button. Dr. Foster removed more than 20 lymph nodes from my abdomen along with the mass.

Good news. The cancer had not spread to my lymph nodes and the mass was not malignant.

Despite excruciating pain piercing my midsection and tubes sticking out from every part of my body, the nurses had me sitting in a chair the next day. Two days later, holding onto Shauna’s arm, I managed to gingerly walk up and down the hallway.

The next day, I was discharged.

But the good news of the operation was tempered a month later.

We were back in Indianapolis for what was supposed to be a quick follow up appointment with Drs. Williams and Foster.

It was July 10, and I woke up in the hotel room light-headed and sweating profusely. On the walk to the hospital, a weird sensation — like a rush of water cascading over my chest — came over me and I buckled onto the concrete parking lot.

Shauna cried for help. Sam watched helplessly.

A security guard came running over with a wheelchair and hurried me into the hospital’s emergency room.

After a battery of tests, doctors determined that I had suffered a large pulmonary embolism in my left lung. Later, they discovered two more blood clots in my left leg.

“If you hadn’t been in the parking lot, you might not have made it,” a critical care physician told us.

I had just dodged a serious bullet.

This wasn’t getting better, I thought as tears flowed down my cheeks and Sam patted my leg in the emergency room. It was getting worse. And I couldn’t do anything to stop it.  

That night, doctors inserted a filter in my chest to prevent future clots from reaching my lungs, heart or brain. I spent six days in the hospital.

My stay felt more like six weeks. Team after team of doctors came to examine me all hours of the day. IU is a teaching hospital, after all.

They scheduled numerous tests to determine the extent of the damage caused by the blood clot. As scared as I was, I still managed to maintain my sense of humor. I am claustrophobic, which doesn’t help during an MRI. The first song I heard during the procedure contained the words, “get me outta here.” I think it was a Smashing Pumpkins tune. I had to laugh.

Still, I was miserable. I was more than 300 miles from home and from Sam, who went back to Belvidere to stay with relatives. Fortunately, I had Shauna and other family and friends who made the long trip to be with me.

To complicate matters, since my major surgery on June 5, I had suffered a complication called a lymphocele, a cyst filled with lymph fluid in my abdomen. The football-sized cyst was putting pressure on my kidney. And the embolism, doctors said, was a likely complication from the lymphocele.

My health issues kept getting more complex by the day.

Said one of the physicians at Indiana University Hospital: “In all my years, I’ve never seen a case like yours.”

Tomorrow: Through pain, fear and sadness, family grows stronger

Paul Anthony Arco, 41, works full-time for the Rockford Park District as the Annual Fund Director. He has been a part-time writer for the Rockford Register Star for nearly 20 years, writing about high school sports, as well as arts and entertainment. He can be reached at paularco@aol.com.

About this series

Paul Anthony Arco was diagnosed with Stage 2 testicular cancer in January 2008 and began fighting the first illness of his life. Several operations and three rounds of chemotherapy later, his cancer is in remission and he decided to tell the story in hopes of raising awareness about the disease. This is the third installment in his four-part story.   Part 2: Chemo becomes 'a second full-time job'

Part 1: Pain in side beginning of fight with cancer