I recently sat down with George Rak, the throwing coach of the Lancaster High School track team, and discussed his experience of going through treatment for testicular cancer. I had the honor and privilege of being a thrower on his team for two years in high school. He was diagnosed in the spring of 2005, and after several surgeries, was able to overcome testicular cancer.
How did you know something was wrong when you developed TC?
“I had recently torn my Achilles tendon and was laid out on the couch for a little while because of surgery that I had for it. While laid out on my couch, I had felt a hard lump, and had already been experiencing a slight pain the previous few days before.”
Previous to your diagnosis, did you know anything about TC?
“Very little, everyone knows about Lance Armstrong but that’s it.”
Once you were diagnosed, how easy or difficult was it to obtain information about TC?
“Fairly difficult, there wasn’t a lot of information readily available, but I went to the website testicularcancer.org. It wasn’t so much of a website as it was more like a blog of real life stories. Another local man found me on this website, and he had survived it a few years before, so he and his wife took my wife and I out to dinner to explain what he had gone through.”
Once you understood your diagnosis, how did you react?
“It was extremely scary once I had finally been told. However, the doctor I had approached about it wasn’t concerned at first, so he had me go for an ultrasound. Then it was an Urologist that found that it was actually cancer. The time of waiting to find out though; those eight hours of not knowing, that was the most terrifying part of my life. Your mind tends to play tricks on you in that type of distress. ”
What kind of treatment did you go through, and how did it affect your coaching?
“The first part of the treatment was an orchiectomy where I had my right testicle removed. After a few more scans to see if it had spread, I then went for a RPLND surgery. That’s a retroperitoneal lymph node dissection. Basically, they opened me up completely from the front and checked all of my organs and spine to ensure that it hadn’t spread at all.”
What kind support and help did you receive during your treatment?
“Everyone was extremely supportive, but that’s not to say that my closest loved ones weren’t constantly scared for me. It’s simply a traumatic event for everyone.”
Could CYN campaign have helped you during your treatment?
“Absolutely. It was kind of a struggle finding solid information about it, so it would have made a world of difference having someone or something local to provide that information.”
Do you feel that your experience with TC could help educate others?
“Yes I do. It may not be the most prominent form of cancer that is known, but more people had it than you might initially think. Turns out that a guy who works across the desk from me that I’ve known for years had TC once too.”
Do you think that humor is a good way to communicate about TC and that humorous messages could help to reduce stigma associated with the disease?
“Humor is definitely a good way. I’ve always been a very blunt person, not afraid to say what it is. So when I’m around friends, my wife, or my team and I say “Oh you’re breaking my ball,” that occasionally raises a question or two. It’s that ice breaker that leads to the important topic of awareness about it.”
After all is said and done, what would you say to men ages 15-40?
“Don’t think that it can’t happen to you! Everyone has to go through some sort of experience related to their health in life, it may not be cancer, but everyone gets or has something. We all walk around like superman with that big “S” on our chest, but once we’re faced with our own mortality, then that’s our kryptonite. After I finished my treatment I returned to the doctor and said “I just had a very intense life-changing experience and there will be other young men who will go through the same thing. Make sure that you let them know how to reach me so they have someone who knows how to get through it.” The most important thing I would suggest is be proactive about your health, and you’ll live a good life.”
- Mark Kosowski