One Man’s Triumph, Part 1
Most 26 year-olds spend their time thinking about careers, relationships, friends, parties, traveling, or just hanging out and having a good time. At that age, life is filled with endless possibilities and limitless fun. When Peter Laneas was 26, he was thinking about the possibility that his life may be over. Peter had just been diagnosed with Stage 3D testicular cancer—a pretty shocking turn of events for an active guy with the world at his feet.
Sadly, many young men are finding themselves in this same situation. Testicular cancer is the most common type of cancer for men between the ages of 15 and 29. And while the rate of this type of cancer is relatively low compared to other cancers (about 4.2 per 100,000 in Canada*), there is evidence to show that the numbers are increasing. Ironically, the men who factor in the highest statistical age range are typically unaware of the disease or its symptoms. Unfortunately, many learn the hard way.
“Initially, I noticed that the volume and size of my left testicle was getting larger and larger,” recalls Laneas when he first noticed something wasn’t right. “This was a fairly aggressive swelling that took place over the course of about a month and a half. Every week I was going down to Toronto General Hospital and I was being misdiagnosed with viral infections or just something they thought they could treat with antibiotics and painkillers.”
A few hours later, Laneas had his diagnosis: Stage 3 testicular cancer.
Unfortunately for Laneas, as he continued to get misdiagnosed, the cancer continued to grow until his testicle had swollen to the size of a kiwi. It was at this point he knew something was seriously wrong—he just couldn’t find the right diagnosis or treatment. “I walked into the hospital on December 19th, 2002 with my testicle swollen and excruciatingly painful,” he recalls. “To my benefit, that night the on-duty doctor happened to be a urologist. He took one look and said, ‘Ok, we’re not going to mess around, I want a CT scan and an ultrasound. Let’s find out what’s going on.’”
A few hours later, Laneas had his diagnosis: Stage 3 testicular cancer. He was admitted and whisked into surgery that night. Because it was such a whirlwind of pain and mystery, he didn’t really have time to grasp the gravity of the situation until a few days later. “I had the surgery within 12 hours but the reality probably didn’t hit me until 3 or 4 days after the surgery,” he remembers. “They knocked me out, removed it and then put me on a cycle of chemotherapy.”
To add to the anxiety, Laneas’s diagnosis and surgery happened to occur at the zenith of the SARS outbreak. To say things were stressful is an understatement. “My treatments took place at Princess Margaret Hospital. The quality of care was really top notch, but they were also concerned with any crossover infection and also the new nature of SARS, not knowing what was going to happen. I was told at the time, because my prognosis was so good, and I was on such an aggressive chemo cycle, that they kept me on track. Otherwise they would have put it off until everything (SARS) was over.”
With all the stress of treatment, SARS, and the uncertainty that can accompany a cancer diagnosis, Laneas had to learn some effective coping skills. To that end, he looked inward to find strength and balance. He also took to literature. “I picked up this really great book called, Hakagure – In the Shadow of Leaves,” he remembers. “It’s a collection of 13th-century prose by a Japanese monk. Where a lot of things that they dealt with and thought about were very similar to what we think about except it was tempered with honour. So, it gave me some perspective to understand that, while it may not be cancer, you are offered challenges and it’s your choice as to how you want to be active or proactive in dealing with things.”
If we open you up and take them out there’s a 50-50 chance you won’t wake up.
He also found solace in comedy. “I like to turn to humour to alleviate certain stresses and anxieties,” he explains with a laugh. “And not just for me but for other people around me. I kind of became like a Chemo Clown. I was walking around, getting seniors to laugh, and the nurses thought it was such a relieving joy that there was one person who wasn’t all downtrodden and depressed.”
After his cycle of chemo, Laneas was in for yet another shocker. Scans showed that he had one more challenge to face, this one potentially dire. “They found a number of dark spots in my abdomen that were either burned out lymph nodes from the chemo or tumours that weren’t affected by treatment.” On top of that, “the medication from the first treatment caused fibroid scarring in my lungs that impeded oxygen absorption,” Laneas explains. “They said, ‘we can do a wait and see or we can open you up and take them out. If we open you up and take them out there’s a 50-50 chance you won’t wake up. So, it’s up to you what you want to do.’”
Faced with this news, Laneas decided to take the bull by the horns and just go for it. “The surgery was scheduled for August 1st,” he recalls. “July 31st I made an active choice that I was going to go out and live my last day and treat it like I wasn’t going to wake up. It was a very sobering thing to really get confronted with your mortality. I only told three people what my chances are of surviving the surgery.”
His strategy—plus the aggressive treatment and the fact that testicular cancer has a 97% survival rate—helped Laneas overcome the disease and get on with his life. According to his doctor, he was in the clear and it was smooth sailing ahead. “Following the first surgery, my oncologist told me that as far as he could tell, and from looking at my CT scans, and x-rays and everything under the sun, I was effectively cured. It’s done. It’s over. It’s finished.”
He was diagnosed with Stage 1B testicular cancer. He had bilateral testicular cancer, which is very rare, occurring in about 3% of men.
Unfortunately, Laneas was in for a very unpleasant surprise. “Roughly three years later, I was getting ready to go to work and I felt this familiar twinge,” he remembers. “I thought to myself, ‘phantom pain, don’t freak out, don’t think twice.’ It was this dull ache and I didn’t want to fool around with it, I didn’t want to second guess it, so I went to Toronto General Hospital and I told them I had a familiar ache, I have had testicular cancer before. I don’t want to take a chance. I refused to leave until they told me it was not cancer.”
About 36 hours later, Laneas had the news he wasn’t expecting. He was diagnosed with Stage 1B testicular cancer. He had bilateral testicular cancer, which is very rare, occurring in about 3% of men. Luck, it seemed, was not on his side. “They found seven tumours that were nonseminoma mixed germ cells and they were more staggered than anything that I figured something was wrong,” he remembers.
Peter Laneas survived the surgery—and the cancer. But that wasn’t the end of his odyssey. Instead of putting these experiences behind him and moving on, trying to forget, he decided to get involved in education and advocacy for other people dealing with cancer, survivors and the issues that arise from facing this disease. In Part 2, Peter discusses what motivates him, how he helps spread the word and what others dealing with cancer can do to cope.
The Canadian Testicular Cancer Association – tctca.org
photo credit: Mirza Noormohamed
Tags: Andrew Vail
, bilateral testicular cancer
, Hakagure In the Shadow of Leaves
, nonseminoma mixed germ cells
, Peter Laneas
, Princess Margaret Hospital
, Stage 1B testicular cancer
, Stage 3D testicular cancer
, Testicular cancer
, Toronto General Hospital