Testicular Cancer Survivor Searches for Emotional Relief

Jeremiah Ray during chemo

Jeremiah Ray, 34, recently completed his studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and expected by now to be busy creating art and music, teaching, and writing. But after being diagnosed with testicular cancer, and then seeing it return, he’s begun an aggressive regimen of chemotherapy that’s left him feeling drained, both physically and emotionally.

“I’m exhausted. Again, I am dealing with this same cancer. By Friday of my first week of chemo, I was in tears all day. I don’t know if it’s the new drugs or the realization of my situation that’s hitting me. I don’t think any patient ever knows. It’s all lumped together in a strange emotional storm,” said Ray.

A world turned upside down

Ray was on his way to the Art Institute in March 2016 when he had a seizure and lost consciousness. He woke up in an ambulance. Until then, he had every reason to think he was in perfect health. He was physically active and ate a well-balanced diet. He paid attention to his spiritual side too. He took long walks in the woods, and practiced transcendental meditation, yoga, and Reiki, a Japanese spiritual healing art.

But after the seizure, Ray spent several days in the hospital undergoing tests. He was diagnosed with stage IIIC testicular cancer that had spread to his lungs and brain. He had surgery to remove his testicle, then flew to Maine to be with his family for the rest of his treatment, which included chemotherapy and radiation.

Physically, Ray says he handled the treatment well. But emotionally, he struggled. His mood was so low, he found it difficult to practice his usual methods of lowering stress.

“I wasn’t prepared for where treatment would lead me on an emotional and spiritual level,” said Ray. “I am very connected to this part of my being, and I felt very disconnected from the side of myself that wants to walk through the woods and wants to explore yoga and Reiki. It was hard to meditate, to concentrate on my breaths and my mantra. On multiple levels, I didn’t feel like myself.”

Financial problems added to Ray’s stress. Even though he has medical insurance, he now owes thousands of dollars in costs that were applied to his deductible and for services from hospitals and doctors the insurance company considers out-of-network and won’t cover. His illness and ongoing treatment have kept him from working.

Jeremiah Ray and a stuffed frog in hospital bed

Climbing back

Throughout his treatment and recovery, Ray worked hard to make sense of his illness and regain his sense of self. He consulted with a therapist, a neurologist, a nutritionist, and a speech therapist to help him cope with side effects from chemotherapy and radiation. His girlfriend gave him a toy frog that he brought to medical appointments, and came to rely upon for emotional support. He worked on his art and his degree, earning his MFA in July 2016, just a couple of months behind schedule. And he began planning to teach a drawing class at the Cancer Community Center in Portland, Maine.

To help pay the medical bills, Ray started a donation page that includes a blog he uses to share updates with friends and family. The money helps, and so does writing the blog. “Telling my story verbally helps me relate to myself and also to others,” said Ray. “It’s helping me come to terms with my situation by finding words that match my emotions.” Many of the posts are light-hearted and feature Ray’s stuffed frog in funny situations.

Gradually, Ray’s strength started to return. After he completed his chemotherapy and radiation treatments, he began regular follow-up visits. At first, the lab tests and scans showed his tumor markers were within normal limits. He was ready to pick up where he left off and continue on with his life.

But that changed in February 2017.

I’m physically run down and it’s taxing on my emotions and my stress levels are high. I’m in that place of wonder and fear.

Jeremiah Ray

A second blow

Six months after he finished chemotherapy, follow-up testing showed that Ray’s cancer had come back in one of his lungs. Doctors said it was important to begin aggressive chemotherapy right away. Even so, Ray took some time to absorb the devastating news, and figure out what to do next.

“I’m physically run down and it’s taxing on my emotions and my stress levels are high,” said Ray. “I’m in that place of wonder and fear. I’m not sure I want to put my body and mind and spiritual being through the effects of chemotherapy again.”

Ray got a second opinion, and then another one, did research online, and looked into the possibility of a clinical trial. He even explored whether alternative therapies could help. In the end, he followed the original advice of his doctor and began the new chemotherapy regimen.

The linearity of time

Under Ray’s new regimen, he spends all day in the clinic every day for 5 days to receive chemo. He repeats the process 21 days later. Depending on how his tumor responds, he expects to do this between 2 and 4 times. After the first week, he’s fatigued and worried about both short-term and long-term side effects.

“The linearity of time has changed,” said Ray. “I have goals on the horizon and there is work to be done that may transcend these notions of time. It could take rest of my life to mend some wounds.”

Still, Ray is hopeful his body will respond quickly to the treatment. In the meantime, he continues to work on his art and writing projects, walk in the woods when he can, and stay as healthy as possible both physically and emotionally. That includes bringing his toy frog to treatments, just as he did before. “He’s my best friend and his presence is soothing,” says Ray. “I’ve been living vicariously through this little creature. He’s been my comfort and support.”

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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