Survivor of Testicular Cancer Recurrence Healing, Getting Stronger

Jeremiah Ray standing on beach of lake several weeks post transplant

Testicular cancer survivor Jeremiah Ray is healing and getting stronger. Ray, now 35, is recovering from treatment for testicular cancer that came back a second time. The results of his most recent scans were the news he’d been hoping for – his cancer has stopped growing. “It is a weight off my shoulders,” said Ray, “but there is still ongoing fatigue and anxiety. I just need to take it slow, go easy and watch out for my emotional wellbeing right now. I need to continue to rest so I can keep on healing.”

The American Cancer Society originally told Ray’s testicular cancer story in the Stories of Hope section of our website last April. He had a type of non-seminoma germ cell tumor called a yolk sac carcinoma  that was stage IIIC. When he was diagnosed, the cancer had already spread to his lungs and brain. He received chemotherapy, but 6 months after he finished treatment, he learned the cancer was again growing in one of his lungs. His doctor recommended high-dose chemotherapy and stem cell transplant.

Ray knew he needed to start treatment soon, but he strongly believes in the importance of multiple opinions, including experts in the field who may live out of state. “Doctors and researchers who devote their lives to the study or cure of certain diseases are often happy to help and/or offer advice,” says Ray. He flew from Maine to Indiana to consult with a doctor who specializes in his type of testicular cancer, though he says emails and phone calls can also work if travel is not possible.

The doctor in Indiana agreed that high-dose chemotherapy and stem cell transplant was Ray’s best treatment option. But Ray still hesitated. “It was the last thing I wanted to do because the first round of chemo was so hard for me physically and emotionally. I’d also have to be in the hospital for a long time, and the thought of not being able to go outside – oh my gosh!”

Emergency

Jeremiah Ray standing in his hospital room connected to iv's

Ray was close to a decision when something happened to – in his words – “seal the deal.” One day last May, he suddenly lost all use of his arm while driving. His left arm just fell from the steering wheel and against the door of his car.

He made his way home where his sister called an ambulance and he was rushed to the emergency room. Scans showed a 3.2 centimeter tumor in his brain. Ray could no longer deny that his cancer was back and it was aggressive.

Ray had surgery the next day to remove the tumor in his brain. He’d need to heal for a month before he could have the high-dose chemotherapy and stem cell transplant. He used that time to work hard to re-gain use of his arm. His physical therapist recommended practicing guitar because it works the arm, hand, fingers, and brain. “It was maddening and saddening,” said Ray. “I’ve been playing since age 17, but now can’t fret a single cord. It sounds and feels like just starting again. But it’s helping me.” Ray says he still has general left-side weakness, but now has about 90% of his arm mobility back: “I can tie my shoes, floss my teeth, and dress myself.”

He began the procedure for high-dose chemo and stem cell transplant in June. It involved many blood tests and a 5-week stay in the hospital. The stem cells were collected from his body and stored. He received chemotherapy infusions around the clock for 5 days, then the stem cells were infused back into his bloodstream. The procedure was done twice. This is often called a tandem stem cell transplant.

While recovering from the first transplant, Ray used the treadmill, bike, and free weights at the hospital’s gym. He meditated with the music therapist and drew and painted with the art therapist. “I used the therapies to take care of my emotional and psychological side,” said Ray. “It played a part in my wellbeing. Staying in bed that much was hard for me. I’m so used to getting up every day and doing something physical.”

Recovery from the second transplant was tougher. This time, he received different chemo drugs, including one designed to penetrate the blood-brain barrier and given to some patients who’ve had lesions in the brain. Unfortunately, it’s more likely to cause side effects. Ray experienced pain, fatigue, mouth sores, and infections. He was stuck in bed and unable to exercise, which was hard on him. “Movement is very important for emotional and mental wellbeing – especially during such an ordeal,” he said.

Since then, Ray has had ongoing tests and oncology visits to check his progress. His most recent scans showed no signs of new cancer spread, and his existing lung lesions have not grown. But they’re still there. He and his doctor are trying now to decide whether it’s best to remove them surgically, or leave them alone.

Work, worry, and hope

It’s quite beautiful to see and create friendships with people I don’t even know, who are trying to help.

Jeremiah Ray

When he first got sick, Ray was in art school. He has since graduated, but has yet to be able to start his teaching career. He said, “I feel like I’m treading water. I want to get on with my life, but I’m hesitant to start anything. I’m exhausted by 1 or 2 in the afternoon. I want to use my education, but I don’t want to write a course proposal if I can’t follow through with it. It’s a very surreal feeling; I don’t know what’s up.”

He also has continuing concerns over finances. Even though his medical insurance covers some of the costs, his share is still more than he can afford. For example, a bill for his 5-week hospital stay is more than $900,000 and doesn’t even include the chemo – it’s just for the room and food. Because of that and other expenses, he’s kept up his donation blog. The blog is also therapy – a way to express himself and to share his story with family, friends, and even strangers.

“People have been very generous,” said Ray. “It’s quite beautiful to see and create friendships with people I don’t even know, who are trying to help.”

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

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