Man sitting in New York City park
Ian FreedImage by: Max Rosenstein
Man sitting in New York City park
1 April 2022

Ian’s Story: How Cancer Defined Him for the Better

Nuts & Bolts Guide
Ian Freed
4 minutes read time

Don’t let your cancer define you.

I had probably heard that phrase no less than a hundred times in my life, and that’s all before I was even diagnosed with Stage II testicular cancer in August 2020.

It’s become a cliche to cancer patients, whether in treatment or remission, but I never really thought twice about it until I was on the receiving end of this rallying cry.

“Don’t let your cancer define you.”

How could I not let it define me? From the minute I noticed leftie was too big and too hard to last month when I had my fourth surveillance scan, and every day in between, all my cancer had done was define me.

But I am here to tell you that “letting” it define me is the reason why I’m now cancer-free and have every intention of remaining that way for the rest of my life.

If I didn’t let my cancer define me, then when my primary care provider told me the next ultrasound appointment wasn’t for a week and a half, and I told them to find something sooner, and they did, who knows how far my disease could have spread?

If I didn’t let my cancer define me, then when the urological oncologist I was referred to told me that they couldn’t see me for 4 weeks, and I calmly told them “No, thank you.” and called another hospital, Sloan-Kettering on my own, who knows how far my disease could have spread?

“Don’t let your cancer define you.”

My cancer does define me. It did in August 2020 when I was first diagnosed, just like it does today. The only difference is that I’m choosing to embrace it. I’m choosing to let it empower me to spread awareness through all facets of my life. As a teacher, coach, husband, and parent to a boy (born April 2020), I’m making the conscious choice to embrace my cancer as an integral part of what defines me.

“Don’t let your cancer define you.”

I didn’t “let” my cancer define anything about me. It gave me its best shot, and I squared up to it and hit it back. An orchiectomy and an RPLND (retroperitoneal lymph node dissection) later, I’m here to tell you that if we can spread awareness and the importance of early detection to even one more person, then the fact that my cancer does define me is absolutely worth it. A recent study of men in the most at-risk age group for testicular cancer (18-34) showed that 62% of them didn’t even know how to perform a self-examination.

“Letting” your cancer define you implies that you are powerless against it. When it comes to testicular cancer, nothing could be further from the truth. Early detection, surgical options, chemotherapies, and radiation treatments have all led to testicular cancer having one of the highest survival rates of all cancers. Make no mistake however, early detection is still the best weapon we have against it. By all accounts, I found mine as early as I possibly could have and it was still Stage II. Yes, I was able to avoid chemotherapy and/or radiation, but my RPLND was no joke. The pathology showed spread to one lymph node, and I needed a major abdominal surgery that had me in the hospital for a week, home for a month, and not fully recovered for about a year.

“Don’t let your cancer define you.”

If my cancer didn’t define me, then I would be wasting countless opportunities to spread awareness. As a high school teacher and a varsity baseball coach, I have a tremendous platform to inform young men about the importance of early detection. Removing the taboo nature of talking about testicular cancer can start right with high school-aged young men. As a husband, telling my story to my contemporaries can prove informative at the least, and life-saving at best.

Lastly, as a father, I can’t think of a more important responsibility than to pass crucial information, be it statistics, anecdotes, or anything in between to the next generation. Our children are our legacies, and my testicular cancer battle, journey, victory, and aftermath are a core component of mine.

“Don’t let your cancer define you.”

My cancer does define me, and I’m better for it.

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