“You have cancer.” Three words I never thought I’d hear; three words that changed me physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. A story by Chris Boyle Team Camino Ambassador
Yes, the show was mostly about the allegations of doping narrated by 'quick-to-defame' reporters who spread the breaking news, like gossip in an all-girls school. While much of the program was negatively focused on his fall from grace, they also touched on the ‘LIVESTRONG’ brand and the legacy he created. Lance was – no matter your opinion on his ethics- also a pioneer and a life saver. He brought awareness to a topic that too many men hid from. It was this part of his story that caused me to pause and to consider that perhaps, I’m not exempt from this illness and I too should self-examine... And so I did.
I remember my inner monologue saying “Shit Chris, there’s a lump on the right one!” Not being particularly shy I raised my concern to my then-girlfriend, now-wife and to my cousin who was my then roommate (follow all that?). We all agreed I needed to see a doctor. I’m not sure there’s anyone who doesn’t dread doctors’ visits but they are especially worse when they involve a thorough ball examination, which is why most of us continue to push it further down our list of ‘things-to-do’. I would have done this too if I hadn’t already shown my junk to Hayley and Ben. They quite literally pushed me into the first of many sterile offices that year.
FYI the “no news is good news” saying is bullshit. With each appointment came, not a diagnosis, but a new referral. This happened for weeks. After each intrusive exam the doctor would give only vague comments like, “we can’t give you any results as you need to talk to Dr. So-and-so.” This didn’t sit well with Hayley or me, and after a few more weeks of tests and scans it was the referral the Urologist made that caused the frustration to change to alarm. “I can’t give you any results as you need to see an Oncologist.”
November 2010 -- “You have Cancer.” Three words you never want to hear in your lifetime and especially not at the ripe age of 31. After removing the tonne of bricks that just landed on Hayley and I and wiping our eyes dry, we wasted no time and began asking the questions that have to be asked.
The questions poured out like they had been waiting behind a dam that’s now burst open. ‘“How do I beat it?” “What’s the chance of it spreading?” “Can we have kids?” “How much is it going to cost?” “Have I got to have Chemo?” “Am I going to lose my hair?”’
Then the answers came, with more deliberation and composure. ‘“Removal of the testicle” “A strong Chemo treatment as the tumor looked as though it was starting to spread.” “Freeze your sperm NOW”, and “You will possibly lose hair” ‘[I’m going bald any way so whatever ha-ha].
My next thoughts felt selfish, “ …But I have a holiday to Hawaii in a week. I don’t have time for this. Why me. This is not happening. Did riding a bike cause this?”
In the span of a few fleeting minutes I had received a devastating diagnosis, set the path to recovery, had a moment of “why me” and the panic of how did this happen. With a deep breath and a squeeze of Hayley’s hand I composed myself. “I can beat this, f!@cking cancer. Let’s get this over and done with. Mind over matter, Chris. Mind over matter.”
Surgery was booked for December- after my trip to watch the Pipe Masters in Hawaii where I took the opportunity to let go of my anxiety and to prepare myself for what’s to come. Let’s just say I didn’t reach this spiritual enlightenment by depriving myself from fun.
With the exception of Hayley and cousin Ben, I kept my diagnosis to myself until just prior to surgery. I thought my family didn’t need any more additional stress. When I did finally tell my family it was no shock that my news wasn’t received well. The Boyle family hasn’t had the best luck when it comes to health. Julia, mum, had just battled breast cancer. John, dad, has Multiple Sclerosis, and Nicola, sister, has since my news also been diagnosed with MS; which is said not to be hereditary. We must have walked under the ladder while stepping on a black cat.
So surgery went like it does. I’m now a little lopsided. Testicle removed –tick! If you’ve ever had the unfortunate experience of waking after surgery you may recall fighting the groggy feeling by searching the room for something familiar to snap you out of your delirious state. My eyes locked onto a sexy and friendly [because personality is important too] nurse named Angel [no shit]. She sweetly asked “is everything ok?” Not knowing if I’m dreaming I blink my eyes again but didn’t answer. I must be in heaven. Little did I know Hayley, Mum and my sister are also in the room watching me speechlessly drool over this nurse. I remember Hayley saying, “I know the nurse is hot and her name is Angel but you are not dreaming.”
Next Step: Chemo or what I call the black bag of death. Then tests to see how fast the Chemo would pass through my body to ensure the dosage would be enough. Fun fact: I have a very fast processing liver function therefore they had to up my dose to make sure anything that may have spread received a proper ass kicking.
Unsure what to expect from the Chemo, the first day I had it I went back to work. To my surprise I felt fine. However, the following week was a very different experience. I felt like the loser of a 12 round boxing match. Brutal.
Three month checks and scans for the first year came back all clear. We had a scare on the twelve month mark where they found a suspect dark spot on the base of my spine, and we were again left to the mercy of time. We had to wait another three months to see if the spot increased in size. It didn’t and once again I’m all clear.
Six month checks pass with less and less anxiety. I’m now at my grand “five year in the clear”. I have beaten this S.O.B for now --due to the type of tumor I had, my official remission does not commence until I’ve hit the 10 year mark, but I am well on the way.
If there are lessons to be learned from my anecdote it is these – No doctor will gently coax you into their examination room like a child on their first day of kindy, so be proactive about your health. Get check-ups regularly, no one will judge you for being ritualistic about it...and quite literally, grab life by your ball(s) and live courageously.
Snap to a year and half ago, when my best friend, whom I grew up racing triathlons with, entered the Port Macquarie Ironman. “You should come and watch”, he said. I’m certain this was a calculated invitation as Izzy knows I’m not one for spectating. My wife Hayley says to this day, “I knew you wouldn’t be able to resist.” I made the decision there that it was time that I got back on the bike. Izzy and I booked a flight to Cairns a few months later to watch our mate Luke McKenzie earn the win. Luke showed his support for my decision by delivering a bike that flew from the U.S. for me to tryout. Standing on the finish line after his presentation Luke mutters the words "You’re doing this next year.” And so the training began as did the races.
Six years after beating cancer, and minus one nut, I made another life changing decision to enter the Cairns Ironman. With the support of my wife, family and friends I was able to complete my first Ironman in June. I had the additional bonus of qualifying for Ironman Kona World Championships in October. This was a personal goal of mine that I couldn't have done without the love and support from the ones closest to me.
Cancer sucks, it is a disease that kills thousands of Australians every year. Australian scientists are leading the way in finding a cure. Though like everything they need funding. If you would like to donate to Cure Cancer Australia foundation please jump onto this link www.curecancer.com.au/donate
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