Cancer Survivor Success Story: Mark Klein’s Journey
Prior to November 30, 2012, I lived a normal life… then, I received a diagnosis of stage 3b testicular cancer. This is when the fight of my life, for my life began. As early as October, I had a pain near my upper thigh/lower abdomen area, but I figured I had simply pulled a muscle. In the following weeks, the pain progressed so much that I was limping with every step. At this point, I figured my condition was serious so my doctor checked me for a hernia and found nothing. Not liking his answer, I looked for another opinion. The other doctor didn’t find a hernia either.
Fighting Cancer During the Holidays
Thanksgiving break was rapidly approaching so I sucked up the pain and told everyone I was going to wait to go to the hospital until Thanksgiving night. I was not going to miss eating a well cooked meal with my family. Thanksgiving came and after eating I went to the hospital where I stayed until Saturday afternoon when all the series of testing was complete. Upon discharge, I had scheduled a follow up appointment with the doctor for the following Friday, November 30. The appointment is still a blur. My mother and sister were with me and I recall the doctor saying my Alpha-Fetoprotein level was 4400 (normal range is between 0 and eight), not knowing what that meant I knew I was screwed when he started drawing diagrams.
When you hear “You have cancer”, you translate it as somebody telling you that you now have a death sentence. 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. The doctor wanted me to begin chemo immediately, but I was expostulated against that, telling him I had some movie opportunities coming up. He then described to me the situation I was facing. Stage 3b means the cancer has spread your lymph nodes and stage 3c is terminal. So, I shut my mouth and found myself actually listening to a doctor for once.
My friends on a social media page were asking how I was doing since my doctor’s appointment and I posted that “I have cancer, it doesn’t have me. This thing has no idea who it’s messing with, I’m Mark Klein” and there it was, my positive thinking.
I had my chemo port installed on December 5, and two hours later I went bowling. Going against the wishes of my teammates, I still bowled and I proved to myself and them that cancer was not going to get many victories against me, if any. My first cycle of chemo (Etoposide, Bleomycin, and Cisplatin), which was three weeks long, started the following Wednesday. The first treatments took place on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, and then once a week for the following two weeks. Going against doctor’s orders, I maintained my social life the first couple of weeks. One of the important things I did during this time was going to Nightingale Harvest, a food bank for cancer patients and their families. It’s a wonderful organization with wonderful and caring people. I would highly suggest looking them up or finding something like this in your area if you, or a family member, ever need assistance. Another important thing I did was meet up with a childhood friend’s father. He served as a huge inspiration since he received a diagnosis of terminal lung cancer the previous year. As he was talking I absorbed everything he said, especially when he told me he knew I was going to beat this thing.
On Christmas Day, I had a fever and went to the emergency room where I learned I had pneumonia. I had to stay at the hospital for four days; during that period, I lost all my hair. I said goodbye to my hair and goodbye to my immune system. The winter months were horrible for me as I battled pneumonia two more times and had to get four blood transfusions, due to my low platelets. This was part of Hell Week, the week when I wasn’t sure if I would make it or not. This is when I realized how strong I really was. At one point, I was so weak that I was crawling along my bedroom floor. I looked up and said, “If you’re going to take me, take me now. Otherwise, give me the strength to get through this”. I am now a firm believer in God. It was also at that moment that I remembered who I was, I’m Mark Klein. I knew I had to keep fighting for my friends, my family, myself, and other patients. I couldn’t quit! As I was mustering up the strength to pull myself up to my bed, I kept asking myself, how could you get others to believe in you if you don’t believe in yourself? All the things I said to everyone that was supporting raced through my head and it re-energized me. Finally, in bed, I breathed a sigh of relief and cracked a smile. I knew I was going to get through this now.
During this monotonous week, I lost sixteen pounds, as it was impossible to keep my food down. One of my best friends came in from Illinois, because he heard I was in bad shape. Eventually I started to hold food down and before I knew it March 16 was right around the corner, my last day of chemo! After chemo, I enjoyed regaining the weight that I had lost. I also stopped by my employer to say hi to my friends and I found out they had a fundraiser for me. That still blows me away. In April, I had routine lab work done and they found a blood clot in my IVC vein. Upon hearing this, I chuckled and said, “It’s just another obstacle”. I had surgery in May to remove two possibly cancerous masses, one the size of a marble and the other the size of an orange along with twenty-five lymph nodes.
The surgery was five hours long and the operation consisted of cutting me open from my sternum down past my belly button. I woke up to find twenty-seven staples in me, but when I got the results back, everything was benign! The following day, my doctor informed me that there was a 90% chance of this coming back within the first two years and that I must have quarterly checkups. I confidently replied, “This thing doesn’t want a rematch.” He also told me that they didn’t remove either one of my testicles. So, I beat cancer and kept both of “my boys”, that was a double victory! My road to recovery was difficult, since I had to teach myself how to walk again. Walk slowly and try to enjoy the things most of us take for granted every day. I returned to work in September and gradually got back in the grove of things. When October came, I decided to go to a local gym and that’s when I knew I was finally back and better than ever.
As I write this, I am nine months cancer free! Every day, for the rest of my life, I will continue to fight this horrible illness. Whether you are a patient, a friend, a family member, or caretaker, keep your attitude positive. Every day that you 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”. Cancer tried to kill me and I took it personal. I hope you do as well.