It was a December night, I don’t remember the exact day but somewhere I should still have the medical report from the ER, which surely can give us more information.
I do remember that I was comfortably sitting on the couch with my parents, and I was just 19 at the time. I suddenly felt an excruciating pain in my left testicle and instinctively touched the spot where this dull ache seemed to be. It was a matter of seconds for me to understand that, in that evening of 2011, my life was changing forever.
You know, in my family cancer has never been a taboo word, maybe because both my grandparents got cancer at a certain point in their life, both from my maternal and paternal sides. My aunt - my father’s sister - got it in the same way, maybe in a milder form.
Oh, and not to mention my grandad’s brothers and sisters who somehow all died because of cancer. Perhaps when you start to call cancer by its name, the fear diminishes little by little, and to clear such a term it’s probably only necessary to repeat it a hundred times in some humorous speech.
What happened for sure was that that night of December, Christmas presents were not the main deal anymore and I had a lot more things to get done. The first one was saying it out loud.
“There’s a lump in my left testicle.”
My father, who had the same amount of information on this subject as me, promptly said to go to the hospital to get it checked because well, “you may never know”, right?
When we got to the ER they assigned a green code to me, green as a meadow in spring, since my life wasn't threatened anyway. A couple of urologists came directly from the upper floor to check my lump, but all I noticed was that they seemed even more afraid than me to tell me what was going on.
“In this case, we need to make an ultrasound exam, the medical report is usually very precise and it must be checked immediately” was their answer after tons of mince words.
I had an ultrasound done the day after, or maybe a couple of days later. Then there was the surgeon’s examination another couple of days later, as we got suggested by a group of family friends who got informed on my situation. And, in both cases, the evidence was one: we won’t give it a name ‘till you’ll get surgery to know its nature but, in these cases, it’s already called a testicular tumor.
By following a quite standard roadmap I can tell you that, in my mind, I already knew how things were gonna be, and I had my surgery done on another December night of 2011.
Now, I won’t pretend that I had pinned my hopes on the possibility that it was not cancer but right after I opened my eyes in the O.R., when I promptly asked “What was that?” the answer was quite simple.
“We removed it.”
Did I lose a ball?
“Well, not too bad,” I thought, there’s always the other one “I didn’t think that cancer was so easy”.
Usually at this point begins the histological examination, to check if there are any metastases inside the body and act accordingly. For example, if a second surgical procedure needs to get done or, if necessary, to define a therapy plan with chemotherapies, radiotherapies, and other kinds of treatments.
About fifty days later, following the histological findingthat stated Embryonic carcinoma, obviously includingvascular invasion and altered tumor markers, I had tostart chemotherapy according to the BEP scheme.
Well, here I want to have a dissertation on how this medicine changed my life and the life of thousands of testicular cancer patients all over the world.
BEP is the basic chemotherapeutic plan for everyone who presents with a non-seminomatous testicular cancer, just like mine was. The acronym stands for the three medications that make it up:
Although both Bleomycin and Etoposide had already been used as cancer treatments, Cisplatin is the key element in the almost definitive defeat of this disease.
In short, if I’m able to tell you this story it’s because of Cisplatin, and thanks to the progress made possible by scientific research and the immense set of rules and ceremonies that laid the foundations for researchers and scientists all over the world to discover how to improve and save our lives from suffering an early end and simply giving us the chance to continue our journey with the realization that it won’t be an unexpected event to put an end to everything.
Cisplatin has almost been discovered by accident, and the history told here comes straight from the official sources.
In 1974, the oncologist Lawrence H. Einhorn, who was fairly new at the University of Indiana, tested for the first time a platinum-based drug with two additional drugs that were particularly effective in killing testicular cancer cells. The combination of the three became the cure for this condition which once was deadly.
In the early 70s, John Donohue was the top man in the fight against testicular cancer. Actually, he had performed a revolutionary surgery that other urological surgeons never performed before.
Despite being the undisputed world leader in the surgical approach to early stage testicular cancer, however, he could only boast a 20% survival rate in his patients when the disease had already spread to the abdomen. Moreover, when surgery could not be conducted, the prognosis of testicular cancer was generally poor and led to certain death in a short time.
In 1973, Dr. Donohue welcomed Dr. Einhorn’s discovery at the University School of Medicine by starting a journey together that led them to be the team with the highest number of testicular cancer cases treated in the world.
With the use of Cisplatin, testicular cancer can fully-fledged be considered a treatable disease in more than 90% of the cases, with best case values that even reach 99% of success.
Today, testicular cancer can almost always be cured, even if you are faced with an advanced and metastatic spread of the disease, while the rare cases that have chemoresistant characteristics or cannot be addressed with surgery still need the research to keep improving so that we can proudly claim to have definitively defeated an oncological pathology.
So, back to my story.
Chemotherapies have marked a difficult stage in my life, and I never thought I had to suffer that much.
However, I was fully aware that every day of suffering would be a day taken away from the spread of the disease, so I tried to stay strong thanks to the faith I have in science, knowing that the path I was taking was valid — not because someone had decreed so, but because there was scientific evidence that someone had fought hard for that treatment to be successful.
Before starting the treatment, I also had a small pulmonary localization which probably was a metastasis, but right after the treatment it was gone.
I was healed, at least the first time, at least for a few years.
It was a November evening, I was in the hospital due to my follow-up checks, and there came the turn of the umpteenth testicular ultrasound, this time done on the surviving testicle.
I had the feeling that the doctor's face wanted to hide something while, of course, there was nothing to hide.
He said “There’s a small opaque area in the remaining testicle”.
“There’s another tumor in the right testicle” I thought.
I got another surgery done in November 2014, my right testicle was removed and it was about time that the remote possibility that I could get another testicular tumor was gone! Unfortunately, though, it wasn’t the same story for the eventuality of having distant metastases.
And then, right after the diagnosis, I started two other paths, the first one already known, the new one in which I had to repeat all the medical investigations to prevent the spread of the disease, just as I had done in the first case. Then there was a less known one in which I would have started (and never stopped) taking a drug for the maintenance of my male sexual connotation and for the sustenance of all the vital functions guaranteed by testosterone.
A testosterone shot every three months, then once a month, even a gel formula, I tried every single solution that felt more compatible with the ability of my body to absorb the drug.
Undecanoate, enanthate, propionate and perhaps even others, I have had a fair experience of how many variants of synthetic testosterone exist to save a person's life and identity and just as many times I have been pleased with the evidence that science never stopped looking for more and more resolutions of the problem. I’m glad it has investigated to the point of offering a broad alternative of treatments for everyone’s own needs. With some of these drugs I would have survived the same, I would have kept my physical appearance anyway, but I would certainly have to come to terms with many side effects that - again, thanks to research - other molecules could avoid.
Talking about cancer, I healed once again.
Medical research enabled me not to undergo another preventative treatment, since the tumoral markers never incrased, hence there was no need to plan a suitable treatment.
I had the chance to do it because again, it’s a scientific evidence that in specific cases, whenever the disease presents itself without certain indicators of severity, there’s the possibility to simply keep an eye on the body with regular follow-up exams.
In this case medicine saved me from itself and its side effects.
I had a metastasis which surely was secondary to the first testicular tumor for so many reasons I won’t explain.
In July 2017 I had undergone another complex surgical procedure on the abdomen, where doctors removed a 9-centimeters Teratoma situated in the retroperitoneum. I have a quite long scar across my belly and a bunch of not-so-good complications but I healed, once again.
It could have gone differently, at least in something.
My diagnostic path surely has not been all downhill, I might have been able to anticipate some times, but I'm still here.
If I could make my contribution and play my part, and the doctors and the nurses could play theirs, and if my friends could be there, and my family could keep having me with them is all thanks to the great discoveries that had a significant impact on the narration of my story.
If in 1845 Michele Peyrone hadn’t described Cisplatin as a chemical compound for the first time, if in 1965 the American chemist Barnett Rosenberg and his colleagues at the University of Michigan had not identified the cytotoxic action of Cisplatin on bacteria, if in 1974 Dr. Einhorn hadn't had the intuition to test Cisplatin in testicular cancer patients… I just wouldn't be here.
If there wasn’t for the insights into the beneficial effects of testicular substances by the Egyptians, the Latins with Pliny the Elder, the Indians with the doctor Suśruta, the Persians with Johannes Mesuè the Elder, if there wasn’t the scientific hypotheses of the physiologist Claude Bernard and Charles Brown-Sequard on integrative therapies, if there wasn’t for the amazing job of the Nobel laureate Fritz Pregl, if there wasn't for the first experiments of testicular transplants by Loe L. Stanley and the discoveries of Ernst Laqueur, Leopold Ruzicka and Adolf Butenandt regarding the androgenic factors to be replicated with testosterone synthetic ... I just wouldn't be me.
These medicines saved my life.
This is the main reason why I founded, with my best friend Francesco, Miracolous Medicines.