Living with a Purpose; A Story of Two Testicular Cancer Survivors
Jason Greenspan was only 18 years old in May 2012 when the world came “tumbling down” for him. He was diagnosed with Testicular cancer just a few weeks before graduating from high school, something that would change his entire life. At that tender age, most teenagers have a colorful life that is usually filled with lifetime memories such as prom. Prom is a popular term used in high school to refer to the promenade concert or dance that is commonly held towards the end of the senior year. The event is often regarded by many as a rite of passage. Unfortunately for Greenspan, this part of his life was uneventful as he explains how it was almost grabbed from him.
Greenspan, a testicular cancer survivor and now a student at Shippensburg University succinctly elaborates how he received the “bad news” in the best way only he could tell. He thought his diagnosis was the end of him and that his life had stopped. Greenspan could not come into terms with the possibility of dying at such a young age, and from that moment onwards, he constantly thought of everything he had been through and experiences he was going to miss. He thought he would miss out on some of the most important things at that time of his life such as prom and graduation. Lucky for him, he did not. He decided he was going to postpone his surgery and attend both of these events because they were too important for him. As if the mere thought of missing out on these events were just a tip of the iceberg, Greenspan professed that thoughts of missing the rest of his life as a whole were adamant in his mind; a clear indication that he had lost hope in life (Duffy, 2016). “My life basically flashed in front of my eyes. It was a surreal experience”- Jason Greenspan.
Greenspan, an accomplished planner according to his peers, was tasked with planning for their prom. He admits that even though planning for prom was fun, it was an uphill task as the event was slated to be enormous but colorful, and meaningful. Before hell came knocking, he had already reserved the limo and prepared a schedule, ready to have the time of his life. Greenspan did not know what awaited him was the complete opposite. He says “little did I know that my life was going to change in an instant”.
Days into the big day, Greenspan was home watching television when he had a simple itch that was life-changing. He noticed something hard and unusual, a feeling he had never experienced before. He knew something was not right and rushed to tell his mother about what he was experiencing. His instincts predicted something horrible was happening to his body. His mother reassured him to calm down as she would make a doctor’s appointment right away. The two went for the doctor’s appointment within a day, and the doctor ran some checks. Then the bombshell was dropped; he had cancer. Innumerable things crisscrossed his mind. Never in a million lives would he have thought of being a cancer patient. He tried holding back his tears, but some rolled down his cheeks. Greenspan was confused as he knew little about testicular cancer. He found himself asking the doctor “how long do I have?” With a blurry mind, he started recalling random events in his life right away from childhood up to that moment. It was almost as if they were being taken away from him, and he wanted to cherish them, now more than ever. He dreaded that there won’t be any more memories in his life now that death was looming (Refsnes, 2015).
Greenspan’s mother was also shocked beyond belief. Her mother (Greenspan’s grandmother) had just been re-diagnosed with cancer, and now her son’s life was also at risk. Greenspan was trying to recover from the shock and did not tell most of his high school friends at first. He did not know how to. Later on, he broke the news to his close friends to their surprise. Nonetheless, they were very supportive, and they tried helping in whatever way they could. Jason recalls that his mother was the most influential person in his life during his diagnosis and the process of treatment. His loving mother took three months off from work just to attend all his doctor’s appointments and sit with him in chemotherapy sessions every day.
Greenspan would later be scheduled for a surgery which did not take long. His whole family showed up to support him, and this felt great. However, several tests after the surgery including general checkups and CT scans revealed that the nightmare was not over. The cancer had spread, and therefore he would require further treatment. This is how Greenspan found himself in chemo. The fact that cancer had spread affected him both psychologically and emotionally. At first, he thought chemo was not as stressful as people deem it to be. The physical part only involved a needle in his arm with medicine in the form of a fluid going into his body for up to five hours. This was nothing compared to the aftermath which would involve stomach pains, loss of appetite, loss of weight, lack of energy, and vomiting. After nine weeks of chemo, he tried to recover quickly and get back to normal life by resting and going out a lot.
Justin Birckbichle is also a testicular cancer survivor just like Jason Greenspan. He discovered something unusual while doing his monthly self-exam in the shower. He scheduled an appointment with a physician who diagnosed him with stage II non-seminoma testicular cancer in November 2016 at a young age of 25. Justin instantly knew his life was never going to be the same again when he received the news from his urologist. He was prepared to be physically and emotionally hurt. He learned from professionals that his diagnosis would require a painful surgery and also entail chemotherapy. Although he was excited about getting healed, he knew he was going to handle much pain and fatigue as well as nausea associated with chemotherapies for several months. Justin, who is now in remission would endure over three months of chemotherapy. During his battle with cancer, he started a blog called “A Ballsy Sense of Tumor” to share his experiences before diagnosis, during diagnosis and treatment, and after healing from cancer. His blog would help him cope with the situation, and later on, he would spread awareness and open up conversations about testicular cancer and men’s health to help others. (Craycraft, 2017).
Justin’s family was supportive, and he’s happy that his family was bonded for a common agenda which was to help him fight cancer. His diagnosis was a significant drawback, and it was even painful for him to endure the situation at an emotional level than the physical level which had nasty side effects. Justin’s fiancée Chagrin Mallory was equally devastated especially because Justin is not the type of guy to express his feelings easily. Perhaps, this is why Justin had opted for a blog, where he could channel all his feelings and lighten his burden (Craycraft, 2017).
Mallory and Justin were happy in 2016, and they found it exciting. Justin had just proposed to her in February and soon afterward, they bought a house and moved in together. Both were thrilled and soon began wedding plans since the occasion was scheduled for next summer. They slated for engagement photos and arranged to meet their cake’s baker. They even began looking for best places they would go for their honeymoon when the biggest blow hit them. She writes on Justin’s blog, “and then all of a sudden in the middle of all of these blissful plans and dreams comes a word that I have feared for most of my life…CANCER.” She indicates how cancer took away the people she loved most in the world including her grandmother before she got a chance to meet her, her beloved grandfather when she was just eight years old, and a student she loved in her first year of teaching. She explains how the word cancer struck her heart like a dagger several times and how it sucked out air from her lungs. She was scared stiff and thought that the disease would break Justin’s spirit and shut down the special light that shone in him. After asking herself innumerable questions about what had transpired, she would later accept and take the situation positively just like Justin (Birckbichle).
Justin would suffer the same plight as Greenspan. Before his post-op appointment, he commenced writing about his story that would cover everything from the time he discovered the lump, hoping that his surgery was going to be the end of his journey with cancer. He discovered that words flowed easily and that he felt a weight being lifted from him with every keystroke. Blogging was actually helping him cope with the situation. He felt relieved after writing down all details of how he found out about having cancer and his first experiences with the doctors. Unfortunately, his battle with cancer was far from over. Just like Greenspan, Justin would be compelled to seek further treatment after a series of tests including CT scans indicated that the cancer had spread to his lymph nodes which required intensive chemotherapy to treat. The sad news did not only break Justin’s heart but also Mallory who broke into tears. Justin resolved to write more, the only thing he thought would help him cope up. At this time, Justin did not think much about the impact he had on other people with a similar diagnosis but rather for his personal reasons; in his own words he said, “it was more to process for myself.”
As he continued with his chemotherapy, Justin figured out he could use his blogging for a larger benefit than just his coping. He wanted his writing to be a valuable resource to others having testicular cancer. This was the beginning of his acceptance and having a positive outlook, something he believes was key to his eventual survival. He recalled his grandfather who also had cancer challenging him always to embrace a positive attitude, something he decided to do. Ever since, Justin has heard from many cancer patients, caregivers, and survivors telling him how the blog has helped them. He says his most significant source of inspiration is seeing other cancer survivors maintain a proper mindset. He also suggests that the most important message to be spread online is that testicles should be discussed openly and not be treated with shame. “My grandfather had cancer. He had the attitude of tell me what to do and I'll get it done. Being down about it wasn't going to help at all, so I didn't.” - Justin Birckbichle.
The stage II non-seminoma testicular cancer survivors were initially full of life since they were still young. Before his diagnosis, Justin was an ordinary youth just like any other at his age. He was overcommitted to multiple projects and was quite industrious. Greenspan, on the other hand, was very hopeful and visionary. In his final year in high school, he had written numerous applications to colleges he had dreamt of attending, and many accepted him. He finally settled for one; Shippensburg University that he currently attends. The two were lucky to be diagnosed with a type of cancer that is not difficult to survive. Greenspan read more about Testicular cancer after his diagnosis and discovered that it is the most common type of cancer for men between ages 15 and 44, and if detected early, it is up to 99% curable (Refsnes, 2017). Greenspan also resolved to help young men understand the importance of monthly self-exams since it’s the most effective method of early detection.
After his recovery, Greenspan joined a group known as Cancer to 5K, where cancer survivors train for their first 5K post-treatment. He found 20 other survivors in the group and their stories were inspiring. Even though he survived, Jason admits to living every day like it’s his last since cancer changed his perception of life. Most importantly, he feels great to be able to tell his story and impact on the lives of other young men so that they cannot go through whatever he did. Greenspan has attended numerous talk shows and interviews where he seeks to inspire others through his story. Apart from TV appearances and radio shows, he has also been featured in magazines and newspapers (Greenspan, 2017). He also supports the Testicular Cancer Awareness Foundation and the LIVESTRONG Foundation through selling wristbands and squished pennies that he created. Greenspan suggests more funding for cancer research and grants payable to nonprofits such as TCAF to ensure that enough awareness is being spread. He does his own fundraising entitled STAMP OUT CANCER NOW (Greenspan, 2017).
Justin who had been diagnosed in November 2016 and cleared in remission March 2017 was declared to be cancer free in June 2017. Mallory indicates that Justin was able to turn a bad situation he was dealing with and turn it into something wonderful. The cancer journey brought them together and made them stronger. They learned to cherish every moment they spent together. They have now known how to stick together through difficult moments and happy times and thus got married on 15th July 2017. She firmly believes that Justin’s purpose is to share his optimism and compassion with the world. She says he has always had a light for life and a driving force that he shares through his charisma, humor, and teaching. Justin is looking forward to writing a book about his journey and experiences in the future, as well as give more public speeches on his story (Birckbichler, 2017). Currently, he’s focused and committed to making a difference in the community through working with various non-profit organizations that help fight cancer and spread cancer awareness such as Stupid Cancer, Testicular Cancer Society, and Testicular Cancer Foundation among others.
The stories of these two young men; Greenspan and Justin have inspired many people and changed numerous lives. Both have joined the fight against cancer, and they do so through spreading awareness and contributing in whatever way they possibly can, and with whatever resources they have. Together, they have helped prove that cancer is a battle that people can win.
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