January 4, 2011
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You wouldn’t know it by looking at him, but John, 45, went through what he called “one of the six Sigmos” when he was 23.
“Yeah, Sigmo,” he told me his made up term with a slight smirk on his face. “They say there are six significant emotional events that a person can go through that will change their life. Marriage, which I did. Having a child, I did that twice. Getting a new job, I went through that once. Moving, did that twice. Divorce, that one hasn’t happened, thank god, and a brush with death, which I did in fact have to go through.”
Being the 23-year-old that he was, all John cared about was being with friends, graduating college in May, and getting married to his high school sweetheart later that December. However, when he woke up on a morning in September, 1988, everything changed.
“I woke up with an aching pain in my groin. I thought it was nothing, so I went to work. By the end of the day, I had landed myself in the ER.”
After a few tests, and a MRI, the doctors told John he had Testicular cancer. However, he took it lightly. John was in surgery the next day to remove his left testicle, and after a lymph angiogram, he was deemed cancer free. John went on to get married in December, and worked for a fortune 500 company in Chicago. All went well until he woke up with the same pain in February of 1989.
“I went to work again, thinking I had just slept funny, but this time I was in the ER by noon. I had to wait two hours before I could get any pain medicine. They had to make sure I wasn’t some druggie off the streets just looking to get a fix. That really sucked because I was basically on my hands and knees rocking back and forth.”
After another round of tests, the dotor came in and told John he had good news and bad news. The bad news was that his cancer was back. But the good news was, it was 90% treatable. This time, the cancer was in the lymph node in his abdomen, which was at this time about the size of a walnut.
“It was scary,” he said. “This time the question was chemo first to try and eradicate the cancer, or to get surgery, and I didn’t want that.”
The lymph nodes that contained the cancer are in the back of the abdomen. However, surgeons don’t like to cut through back muscles, so they go through the front and have to go through all the intestines and inside organs. It leaves room for a lot of complications.
In the end, John and his doctors decided to try the chemo.
“I would never wish this on anyone. It was hell,” he said.
Over a course of four months, he checked into the hospital once every four weeks. He got three types of chemotherapy for seven days in a row. In addition, every Tuesday John went to the doctors to receive a different and additional type of chemo that gave him excruciating pain throughout his body.
“You’d just have to grit your teeth and do it, because eventually one way or another it’d be over.”
The doctor wouldn’t tell him much, because he believed if he told John that he would puke a lot, or lose over 10% of his body weight (like most patients did) then there would be a greater chance of that happening because it was already put into his head.

Now, John has been cancer free for 21 years, and is still going strong. He is still married to his high school sweetheart, has two teenage kids and lives in a house in the suburbs.
“I think it gave me a different look on life. It definitely changed me, like a Sigmo will change anyone. It made me explore more, take greater risks, and for the most part not to sweat the little stuff.”

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