Levi Webb is addressing the large ski lodge audience.
“I want to thank my family, friends and medical personnel for their prayers and support,” said the 24-year-old. “In my darkest moments, I wondered if my life would ever be my own again. Replaying happy moments from earlier in my life and repeating ‘I can do it’ often got me through my ordeal.”
It all began three years ago. Webb was a university student, snowboard instructor and restaurant cook. He’d noticed a lump in his left testicle and believed it was a swollen vein. It didn’t hurt, so he didn’t think much about it. Over time, there were other lumps. He wondered if they were skin irritations or an infection. Finally, by last fall, the strangling pain had him leaving work early.
As a student without health insurance, he’d put off going to the doctor. When he did go, he was given an exam, lab work and ultrasound test. The next day, a surgeon removed his left testicle in an outpatient procedure. He didn’t know to request a prosthetic testicle. And an intimate part of his body was gone.
While recovering from surgery, Webb read the pathology report and learned that he had stage II non-seminoma testicular cancer. Because the cancer had spread to his mid-section lymph nodes, he’d need chemotherapy. His right testicle would continue to produce testosterone. If he wanted to have children someday, he’d need to bank his sperm. Chemotherapy could affect his fertility and sexual functioning. As the weeks passed, he grew accustomed to dropping his pants for exams.
The doctors didn’t know for certain what had caused Webb’s cancer. More than 7,000 varied cases of testicular cancer are diagnosed every year in the U.S. The peak incidence occurs between the ages of 20-39. Older men are diagnosed in smaller numbers.
For several weeks, four to six hours each day, Webb sat in the infusion clinic receiving his cycles of chemo. Some days, he’d also get a white blood cell booster or anti-nausea injections. Matcha green tea powder made him feel better. He stopped smoking cold turkey. The treatments made him taste the metal in eating utensils, which as a cook seemed ironic. Some folks urged him to change his lifestyle completely by changing what he ate. At times, he couldn’t sleep and had panic attacks.
Neither his age nor gender segregated him from the other people in the clinic with cancer. He entertained the staff and patients when he felt up to it. He longed for chocolate chip cookies.
The medical staff told Webb he’d lose his hair. He’d grown it out for the upcoming winter. He prepared for the loss by getting a haircut and shave. He considered wearing a hat made from his own hair. His dark strands fell out in clumps on his pillow. Next, there was white stubble. Finally, he shaved his head bald.
His treatments are now over. Work and school are on pause while he regains his stamina and figures out what he wants to do. He’ll need five years of clear CT scans of his lymph-nodes to be considered cured. And the chemo drugs can present their own long term issues.
Webb thinks he’s fortunate, considering how long he waited to get checked out. Now he’s encouraging others to heed his experience as a warning and perform self-exams regularly.