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Testicular Cancer Survivor Uses Blog to Keep in Touch

Article date: August 29, 2005

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"My friends have helped me through this in ways that I'm not sure I can ever tell them about. I have the best friends in the world."

 

When 28-year-old Bill McDaniel was diagnosed with stage II testicular cancer in January of 2005, it didn't come as a complete surprise. About a month earlier, Bill had noticed a lump in his left testicle. His primary care doctor had put him on antibiotics, standard treatment for a suspected infection, and said not to worry.

But Bill did worry. Repeated courses of antibiotics didn't help; the lump was getting larger and more painful. While pain isn't usually a symptom of testicular cancer, in Bill's case it was a sign of danger ahead.

Finally, Bill insisted on seeing a urologist. An ultrasound revealed cause for concern. "It looks like cancer," the doctor said. Further imaging tests confirmed the diagnosis. Surgery would be the first step in his treatment.

Bill and his fiance Stacy suddenly found their lives transformed. Challenges, as well as unexpected rewards, lay ahead.

The next challenge came quickly. Bill, a software engineer, was about to lose his job because of the sale of the company he worked for. Although not a welcome turn of events, being unemployed did allow Bill to focus on his upcoming treatment and recovery. And COBRA (the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act), meant that Bill could keep his insurance coverage just when he needed it the most. Compared to the cost of treatment, the "outrageous" premium of $350 per month turned out to be a bargain, according to Bill.

While world-renowned cyclist Lance Armstrong put a face on testicular cancer for many people, his story is not the only one. Although relatively rare, testicular cancer will affect about 8,000 men in the United States this year. The good news, as Armstrong demonstrated, is that this is a highly curable disease. But that doesn't mean that treatment is easy, as Bill found out.

Tasty Hospital Food, the Advantages of Baldness

In early February, Bill had surgery to remove his testicle in an operation called an orchiectomy. The surgery went well.

"In just over 2 weeks I was almost fully recovered, and even able to run and ride a bike just like a real boy," he recalled.

He and Stacy steeled themselves for the chemotherapy to follow.

To keep his family and friends up to date on his progress, Bill developed a blog site. A blog (short for "Web log") is a kind of online journal that looks like a Web page. It can include text, photos, and links to other Web pages. Bill's site used all of these. But what comes through most of all is his sense of humor. Without downplaying the seriousness of his condition or the rigors of treatment, Bill manages to make his readers smile at his wry observations about life in the emergency room, hospital food (he likes it!), and the advantages of being bald.

While cancer patients have often used journaling as a way of coping with their diagnosis and treatment, technology adds a new dimension to the process. Family and friends can log onto a blog and find out as much information as the patient wants to share. That can mean fewer phone calls and the need to repeat information again and again. Photos can provide great comfort to distant family members. But, as Bill noted, "Even though I'm a computer geek, there's no substitute for human intervention."

As documented in his blog, chemotherapy was a rough road for Bill. Twice he ended up in the emergency room with severe side effects. His blood pressure plummeted, his temperature skyrocketed, he had shortness of breath, profuse sweating, ringing in his ears, and general disorientation.

Through it all his fiancée Stacy, his mother, and his friends supported him with loving care. Bill pays special tribute to them in his blog. He writes, "Stacy has borne the worst duty in this war. It's her job to rush me to the ER and to hold me all night when I'm in the worst place I've ever been. Nobody gives her any drugs to make the pain and the anguish go away. She's left there once I stabilize to try to relax a little bit, but she must always be ready."

A New Outlook on Life

Like many cancer survivors, Bill has found the experience forced him to look at his priorities. The result? Bill McDaniel's philosophy of life, in three parts.

First, life is short. There are no guarantees. Seize the day. Do it now.

Second, life is precious. Take care of yourself. Take the long-range view. Don't do anything unnecessarily risky.

Third, find a balance between the first two, that sometimes elusive middle ground.

It looks like Bill has succeeded in that. Now as their September wedding day approaches, Bill and Stacy find themselves in the usual whirlwind of activity. They are buying a house. Bill has a new job close by and, most importantly, he remains cancer free.

When things get chaotic, Bill reminds himself ". . . we already have so much to be thankful for and so much to enjoy just in life—the way that it is right now—simply to exist is the most valuable gift, truly an incredible and amazing thing."