Testicular Cancer Survivor: ‘I’m back and better than ever!’

Written By:Stacy Simon

Several times a year, Mark Klein visits high schools in the Toledo, Ohio area to share his story with groups of junior and senior boys. He tells them about the symptoms that led him to seek treatment and what it’s been like for him to survive testicular cancer.

Testicular cancer is highly treatable and usually curable. It affects about 8,400 men per year in the United States. About half the cases occur in men between the ages of 20 and 34, though Klein was 39 when he was diagnosed.

In October 2012, Klein began noticing pain in the area around his upper thigh and lower abdomen. He assumed it was a pulled muscle until it got so bad he couldn’t walk without limping. Two different doctors suspected a hernia, but found nothing. Klein decided to go to the hospital, but not until after Thanksgiving – he was determined not to miss the holiday with his family. On Thanksgiving Day, he ate a home-cooked meal, and then checked into the hospital for tests.

Klein’s mother and sister came with him to the follow-up appointment, where a doctor told him he had stage 3B testicular cancer. It had spread to his lymph nodes. “When you hear, ‘You have cancer,’ you translate it as somebody telling you that you now have a death sentence,” said Klein. “I broke down in tears. I held my mother and told her I was going to beat this thing. I’ve always been a positive person, but I knew this was going to be my biggest challenge ever.”

A rebellious streak

Klein’s doctor told him he would have to start chemotherapy immediately. But Klein was trying to break into acting and had some movie opportunities coming up. He wanted to wait. The doctor said if Klein waited, he may not survive. “So, I shut my mouth and found myself actually listening to a doctor for once,” said Klein. He posted on social media: “I have cancer, it doesn’t have me. This thing has no idea who it’s messing with. I’m Mark Klein.” Klein had a chemo port installed during a minor surgery, but 2 hours later went bowling with his team.

Klein says he ignored doctor’s orders by maintaining his social life during the first couple of weeks of treatment. On Christmas Day, he began running a fever and wound up in the emergency room with pneumonia. This was the beginning of a tough winter. He had 2 more bouts with pneumonia and 4 blood transfusions due to low platelet counts. He lost all his hair, he couldn’t keep food down, and he was so weak he couldn’t stand. Ironically, this is when Klein says he realized how strong he really was. “I kept asking myself, how can I get others to believe in me if I don’t believe in myself?” said Klein. “I knew I had to keep fighting for my friends, my family, myself, and other patients. I couldn’t quit.”

Klein would rely on his new resolve to face even more challenges. In April, he was treated for a blood clot and in May he had surgery to remove 2 tumors and 25 lymph nodes. Although the news was excellent – the doctors didn’t find any cancer – the recovery was tough. First, Klein had to teach himself to walk again. Then he returned to work, and by October – a year after he first noticed the pain that led to his diagnosis – he returned to working out at his local gym. “And that’s when I knew I was finally back and better than ever,” said Klein.

A new life attitude

"Every day that I wake up is the start of a new and wonderful day. I have had many different names in my life, but the best ones are 'inspiration' and 'survivor.'"

Mark Klein

Klein’s doctor told him there was a good chance his cancer would come back, but so far his checkups have found no trace of it. “Every day, for the rest of my life, I will continue to fight this horrible illness,” said Klein. “Every day that I wake up is the start of a new and wonderful day. I have had many different names in my life, but the best ones are ‘inspiration’ and ‘survivor.’”

He says his attitude toward life is different now. He says he’s done more things this past year than he had done his whole life. That includes a trip to Hawaii, going skydiving, and riding in a NASCAR race car for 5 laps on the Toledo Speedway. He also landed a couple of acting roles with a small movie company called Shattered Images Films.

And he gives back to the communities that helped him when he needed it most. During his treatment, Klein sought help from Nightingales Harvest, a food bank in Toledo that provides food, toiletries, and cleaning supplies to people with cancer and their families. Now that he’s better, Klein participates in fundraisers for this non-profit organization.

He also takes part in as many American Cancer Society Relay For Life events as he can – most recently, a bowling fundraiser. Klein attended his first event, the Relay For Life of Oregon, Ohio, 6 months after his diagnosis. A friend pushed him around the survivors’ lap in a wheelchair. The second time he attended, he walked the lap. But his favorite activity at the event was hitting a car with a sledgehammer. The car was meant to represent cancer. “Oh I had a great time,” said Klein.

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