The Fear of Recurrence After 13 Years


My cancer came back, sort of, after just over 13 years since diagnosis. Now for those of you who know me, relax, I do not have cancer again. But of course there’s a story behind this odd statement, and it all started with feeling full?

On October 16, 1996 I was diagnosed with moderately advanced testicular cancer (yes, 2 weeks after that guy who’s a little more well known around here, he beats me at everything). A couple of surgeries, some chemo, and 3 months or so later and I’m done with the treatment side of cancer; or so I thought.

Flash forward to 12 years post treatment and I find a bulge in my upper abdomen that was basically like a small balloon. No worries, my doc says, you had a big abdominal surgery back in the day and sometimes sutures fail. An hour or so of hernia surgery soon after and I was good to go.

But this time around it’s a little different. I was never really hungry, felt full all the time, and I have another unexplained bulge in my upper abdomen. Add in that my brother Robin died from stomach cancer three years ago, and now you have the makings for full on concern (stomach cancer is one of those bastards that grows inside out, and you often don’t even know you have it until it’s Stage 4). I tried to reassure myself that his form of disease is very rare in men my race / age. A quick search on the internet of my various symptoms and I find I could have anything from gastritis, liver or kidney disease, a hernia, a blocked intestinal tract, and yes, cancer. I have yet to become reassured.

I started out my trek back into the possible cancer world by visiting my family doc. He agrees I do have the symptoms, pokes and prods and says (of course) we need to do more tests, blood and an ultrasound – but he doubts I have cancer. Of course I can’t help but recall this was how things first started back in 1996 with essentially the same test regimen. Reassured? Not even close.

This time after much blood is drawn and the magic wand is waved around I pulled the tech aside and asked for his opinion of what he saw. He gave the stock answer that only the radiologist could say for sure, but he didn’t see any large masses that would indicate the Big C. This is much better than back in the day when the tech almost dropped his probe to go and get the radiologist, and so began my cancer journey. I’m a little more reassured, but now the waiting begins.

About a week later I go see my GP and he confirms the ultrasound was fine and so were all the blood tests, but then he pokes and prods again and says that something, or maybe some things, were not right. From his end he starts treating me for gastritis but says I need to go see my surgeon for a higher level look-see. He’s out of his league and testing capability, so another week’s wait before I can see him and that equals more time to think about things, bad things. Dreams have an interesting way of telling you what your true inner psyche is concerned about.

I see my cutter and he agrees that there’s something wrong, but he can’t tell what from just feeling about. He suspects either another hernia or the previous repair has gone awry, but he can’t rule out anything else, either. Only a CAT scan can tell, and I get scheduled for one in a few days and a follow up in a week or so.


Now I’m a veteran of CAT scans and while it’s certainly old hat, it doesn’t mean it’s any more fun, either. And this is also where the crazy cancer smells and experiences kick in, too. I think for any cancer survivor there are sensory things that take you back in a moment to some of the worst times of your life. For me it’s things like the metallic taste in your mouth as the iodine is infused into your IV, and the mechanical voice over the CAT scan intercom that says, “Take a deep breath and hold it. Now breath normally.” My mind is flooded with thoughts of surgical recovery, chemo bags drip, drip, dripping interminably, and long walks down hospital hallways dragging my IV stand along for the ride. Hell, just writing this brings back a lot of those thoughts, let alone the hum of being scanned for the umpteenth time!

– Note to the marketers who brand the Barium contrast: it doesn’t taste like a vanilla smoothie, I don’t care what cute graphic you put on the label. I’d go with ‘chalk mixed with Milk of Magnesia’, ugh.

And so another few days begin, waiting and worrying what I will have to tell my wife, family, and friends, before I get back to my surgeon and the definitive diagnosis: a hernia, and no cancer. He’s not sure what kind of hernia it is until he goes in, but it’s not serious and I should also continue my medication for gastritis. I can go about my life as normal and we’ll fix this thing in the Spring, have a nice day.

And now I am reassured, but I had to go places I haven’t been to in a long time, i.e. my cancer experience came back full force. There’s a line in the LIVESTRONG Manifesto that reads, “we know the fight never ends. Cancer may leave your body, but it never leaves your life.” My story is just one example of this truth, and the reason we’re here fighting for you every single day.



  1. tom Jenning says:

    Thanks for sharing Chris. Keep fighting the good fight. Livestrong.

  2. Peter Thomas says:

    Dear Chris,

    Just read your entry with some trepidation. Been in complete remission since April this year and most of the thoughts you experienced during your wait came flooding back to me too. I still have them, and your right they will probably never leave you. Just makes you think how much of a serious journey you go through when your diagnosed.
    I’m so glad for you
    Take care and Livstrong

    Peter, Livestrong, Wales UK

  3. Mike Nielsen says:

    Very revealing and interesting Chris! It’s hard to know what a friend is feeling when they’re going through such a scary period. Thanks for the insight, and I’m glad you’re going to be OK.

  4. Joe Schneider says:

    Thanks for sharing my friend, I totally agree with you about the sites, sounds, smells, and tastes…definitely takes you back to a different time. Glad you are well buddy!

  5. Ann Johns says:

    What a brilliantly-written article, Chris! I’m so sorry you’ve had to relive all of that recently but am very happy that the outcome was such a great relief!
    I can really relate to this as I’m going through a similar journey just now. My previous cancer and treatments were different from yours (thyroid cancer, 2 surgeries, 2 doses of radioactive iodine) but, my latest tests happily suggest that I’m free of it at the moment. However for the past couple of months I’ve been going through a whole range of procedures to try to diagnose a slight ache in my right side and with every different doctor, test and clear set of results come a whole range of emotions. They don’t know exactly what it is yet but they don’t believe it’s cancer, so although the fear will always be there, I’m doing OK with it.
    I wanted to add that your Barium contrast comment made me laugh out loud – FYI, marketers, the “Banana Smoothie” one also could do with some banana and some smoothie in it!
    Your whole article just summed it all up so well for me, that I wanted to thank you for sharing your story.

  6. Marc Livolsi says:


    Thanks for sharing that with us. You took me places I dread visit even now after 20 years, and the taste of the IV popped into my mouth at reading your words. I’m so glad your news wasn’t what you feared, but it doesn’t take much to pull us back to that dire time. Amazing how well we block it out of our thoughts and how vividly it comes back when we have to look it in the eye again.

    Live Strong, Chris.


  7. joaon says:

    I could have written this, just replace 13 for 10 years… Hang on and livestrong, Chris!

  8. Constant vigilance. You’re doing well. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  9. So glad that Chris shared his story. Fear of Recurrence is a prevalent concern amongst cancer survivors. That’s why we put together a helpful article to help you deal with this concern. Go to the following link to read about fear of recurrence and how to deal:

    For more info call us at 1-866-673-7205

  10. EllyLou says:

    Tomorrow is my one year in remission cancer-versary. It’s one week, three days, seventeen hours and twenty minutes until my next scan. I’ll think about your article to keep me distracted in the tube. Thanks, much.

  11. Beth Hames says:

    Chris, I love reading your posts. Thanks for sharing your story…bh

  12. Chris, thanks for sharing this with us all. As a 3x cancer survivor, there’s always that thought in my head about “if” and “when” it’ll come back…and what each bruise or fever might be signaling. Your thoughts and feelings are ones we all experience, and while it’s not probably easy putting private thoughts on the public web…the more we all talk and share, the more awareness and change happens. Kudos and thanks. We WILL find a cure…perhaps a gift from GenX to GenY. :)

  13. Jennifer Smith says:

    Congratulations on your benign results, something we all love to hear. I love your story and can so identify with all that you say. I’m normally very positive, live life strong everyday, but had my own scare over the last couple months. I am a four year breast cancer survivor and was highly offended when a suspicious area showed up on an MRI. My “good” breast was misbehaving! Finally, biopsy last week, which proved B-9! Did my happy dance. Want to live my life to the fullest, but think I will always be aware of the “what ifs”. Thank you for telling your story and validating what so many of us feel.

  14. Ian Devan says:

    Glad to hear things are not as serious as they might have been, still a nasty scare and no doubt some sleepless nights. You sure did not seem your usual self during Austin LAF weekend, and now it obvious why. Best wishes from the regulars here in the UK, look forward to seeing you and having a few beers in 2010.
    Ian.D & Darren.J Continue to Livestrong, my friend.

  15. Paul Newman says:

    Chris, I’m not sure if I actually came up with this myself but when I lecture on cancer, I always say that once you’ve had cancer, nothing is ever just again. The stomach pain isn’t a result of eating 3 dozen hot wings, its stomach cancer, the headache after a night of drinking is a brain tumor, etc. You’re right, the fear never goes away.

    Back in the early 60’s, we had a neighbor who was a holocaust survivor. One day a air raid alarm went off (not uncommon back then). She flashed back and came flying out of her apartment screaming for her son’s name.

    I think traumatic events stay with us either consciously or unconsciously forever.

  16. Ron Kolenic says:

    CB,you rock man…keep kicking cancer’s ass and ride-on!

  17. hahnfeld says:

    Clue #327 that you’ve gone through cancer treatment:

    You know just what clothes to wear on CT scan day to avoid the need to change into a hospital gown.

  18. Ron Bye says:


    I am now over 34 years out and can unfortunately fully attest to the fact cancer never leaves our lives……… and to the fact of certain “triggers” which bring it all flooding back…….

    I have lived an incredibly healthy life since my cancer experience… until the last few months… I have now seen more doctors and had more tests (the CT scanner and I have gotten quite well re-aquainted) in the last 4 months than I saw in 30+ years previously and still no answers……..

    Next round of tests in a few days……….

    Hopefully I will have some answers soon.. good or bad… I will at least then be able to start dealing with what ever… I can’t help but wonder if it is all now catching back up with me………….

    Best of luck to you Chris

  19. Facebook User says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. I am very happy things worked out the way you hoped this time. I am currently waiting for the results of my most recent CT Scan…my first six month duration. My post treatment regimen started out as CT Scans and blood work every 3 months for 2 years. Then, every 4 months for another 2 years and now 1 every 6 months for a year and then annually after that. It has been almost 4 years since chemo and radiation and I cannot express how much I hate the week between my tests and the results. I feel fine and all tests post treatment have been good so far. Chemo is just one of those things you do and get it over with hoping you never have to do it again.
    Praying for a cure!

  20. Sandra Mitchelhill says:

    Thanks for sharing Chris. I am a 5 year breast cancer survivor and recently had an irregular blood test result. The error was in the testing; nothing wrong with my blood values. However, something like this brings back that day when I was first diagnosed. You can recover, but you never forget a cancer diagnosis, the surgery, chemo, radiotherapy and tests,etc. Only those who have had cancer can really understand.
    All the best to you.

  21. Vinny Marchionni says:


    I’m a year out from a Stage 4 NHL diagnosis, I’ve been in remission since April. Just completed my scans and blood tests and everything is fine. You captured the CT scan experience perfectly.

    Cancer never leaves your life. I’ve learned that. I had hoped that I could just punt cancer out of my body and out of my mind. I wanted to go back to my life before I heard the words, “you have Lymphoma…we have a great hemotologist on staff that you should call.” You can’t go back, the fight never ends. We are constantly reminded and are constant reminders. That yellow band we wear says so much about us.


  22. Sarah "Tills" says:

    Hey Chris! Long time no talk of course, but I read this and had to hold my breath. I was just telling some friends of mine how we met at Dragon Sports and how you introduced me to triathlon (still racing), so I looked you up. SO glad to hear you’re strong and healthy albeit an inconvenient tummy pouch :) Take care and keep writing!

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