Thursday 24 June, 2021

Cancer Treatment, Complications, and Getting Back Up

Matt, based in the U.S., is a motivational speaker and testicular cancer survivor.

Shortly after the diagnosis I was informed that I would require 5 rounds of chemotherapy to shrink the 11 cm tumor before surgically removing it.

Each round of chemo became more difficult not only physically, as one would imagine, but mentally as well. I began to lose the red hair that had always defined me. Then shortly after one of the toughest mental roadblocks hit as we laid to rest my three-year-old Boxer, Duke, who had been battling cancer alongside me. After a period of grieving, I told myself I can either give in or fight like hell, so I dedicated my final rounds of chemo to Duke.

When I finally reached my last day of chemo, it was one of the most gratifying days of my life because I knew I would start feeling like myself again- or so I thought..

November 22, 2016 – January 5, 2017 

Upon review of my scans, my oncologist told us, “The good news is that the tumor has shrunk to 3-centimeters. The bad news is the tumor is wrapped around your inferior vena cava” — a large vein carrying blood from the lower body to the heart. It was apparent this surgery would be complicated.

January 6 – January 28, 2017

The day of surgery, my stomach was in knots. I said goodbye to my family and Lauren. When I woke, I learned the 11-hour surgery had successfully removed the cancer. The vena cava, however, couldn’t be salvaged. This led to massive swelling in my body and I retained 50lbs of fluid. My surgeon informed me this will gradually drain.

Two weeks from my hospital release date, the draining suddenly stopped. I was in such excruciating pain that I found myself in the E.R. where the situation quickly escalated.

January 28, 2017 – March 17, 2017 

In emergency surgery, a “tap” procedure was performed, draining over six liters of fluid. This did little to reverse the trauma my body had experienced, and I now faced Compartment Syndrome caused by the pressure buildup. My liver and kidneys were failing, and I fell into a coma for two weeks. 

While unconscious, I was hooked up to countless machines, a breathing tube down my throat, a cone drilled into my skull to monitor brain swelling and multiple catheters in my body. 3 additional surgeries were performed to drain fluid and I had begun dialysis. The prognosis was grim, but my parents and Lauren never left my side.

Three church services were held on my behalf where hundreds gathered in prayer for my healing. As the final service concluded, a close friend in attendance received a call from my mother exclaiming that I had just woken up. Everyone was shocked but I have no doubt that those prayers were heard from above.

At this point, my body was depleted, my muscles had atrophied, and my weight loss was devastating. It took too much energy to even talk. I wasn’t out of the woods yet. 

I was making small strides until one of my nurses removed a central line from my neck that sent my heart out of rhythm. Eight minutes of CPR and multiple electric shocks later, I was back – this was the closest I came to death, but was gifted with more time to live. As a precaution, I was sedated for a week until my body was sufficiently recovered from the cardiac arrest.

On Valentine’s Day, I emerged from the coma. My recovery was slow, first learning how to sit up in my bed. I then practiced standing in 10-15 second increments before I was strong enough to take my first steps. This was an emotional rollercoaster as many days were mentally and physically draining. But as I began to focus on one small task to complete a day it allowed me to gain momentum and confidence that I would make the recovery I needed. 

Despite my weakened state, I continuously increased my steps. My progress was almost too good to be true, and I could finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. In fact, it was too good to be true. I glanced down at my stomach to discover my spleen broke through the stitches. They wheeled me off to my fifth major surgery in a matter of a month.

I woke up back in the ICU but this time, it was different. Due to the excess of surgeries on my abdomen, they were unable to pull the incision taut. They placed a Wound VAC over the area that was left open and told me my tissue would repair itself in time.

I worked my way to the step-down unit and ultimately to rehab for two weeks. As amazing as the staff was during my 53 day stay, I was beyond ready to go. 

Tips on finding perspective at rock bottom

As I look back now on the most challenging moments of my life I find myself truly reflecting on how all of the setbacks I endured during cancer were truly a setup for something much bigger in my life. With that said remember your journey is a marathon not a sprint. Focus on one small task you can accomplish every day and before you know it you will make leaps and bounds in your life.  So if you are facing a challenge in your life right now realize this might be a way of guiding you towards a much more impactful path you never knew possible. 

  • Stop overwhelming yourself with past struggles and future worries.  In order for me to recover in the hospital I had to focus on being present each day completing one task at a time. Once I did so it allowed me to gain the momentum and confidence to preserve when all odds where against me.
  • Being at rock bottom is not the end of your journey it might actually be just the beginning… for me overcoming all of the most difficult obstacles of my life allowed me to ultimately find a new and greater purpose in my life and this can be the same for you if you look at each setback as a setup for something amazing in you life. 
  • Stay strong in your faith and support. Life will give you unexpected turns but if you don’t lose faith and use loved ones or individuals who can relate to your struggles it will help you relieve a lot of the mental and emotional baggage you have been holding onto for so long.
Matt, based in the U.S., is a motivational speaker and testicular cancer survivor.

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