April 15, 2015 | by Abe Rosenberg
“Honestly, there's nothing special about my story,” protested Daniel Samson, as he bounced Layla, his 3 1/2-year-old daughter, on his lap and put on a video for her to watch. “I just want to tell it for my own sake, and share it with other men who may be going through this chaos.” Samson spoke in a slow, easy, earnest manner, displaying a constant smile, looking very much like someone truly grateful to be where he is.
Grateful, because at 41, Samson’s been through the “chaos” twice.
A commercial photographer from Long Beach, Samson first developed testicular cancer in his mid 20s. That's typical. Most of the roughly 8,400 men diagnosed each year are between the ages of 15 and 34. Samson was treated at a local hospital, getting surgery and chemotherapy. For a while, he believed he was cured.
But a decade later, the cancer returned. “The chemo didn't do the job,” he believes.
Although the overall survival rate for testicular cancer approaches 96 percent, recurrences can and do happen, often in other parts of the body. Chronic lower back pain and difficulty sleeping sent Samson back to his doctors. Tests revealed cancer cells in the lymph nodes, plus a large abdominal tumor.
This time, Samson and his oncologist chose City of Hope because of its unique and renowned expertise in surgery and treatment for recurrent testicular cancer.
“Surgery the second time around can be extremely technical, with a high risk of complications,” said Jonathan Yamzon, M.D., assistant clinical professor and surgeon in City of Hope’s Division of Urology and Urologic Oncology. “Only a handful of doctors do this. We get lots of referrals from other hospitals.”
Samson knew he was in the right place the moment he walked through the doors at City of Hope and experienced the calming atmosphere.
Confident from the beginning
“On that first day,” he recalled, “no fewer than five different people welcomed me, explained everything, and guided me through each step of the process. You know how employees at some businesses are “required” to be nice? These folks at City of Hope really are nice. I didn't feel like just a patient ... I felt like a valued human being.
“There's so much staff everywhere, and yet nobody seemed to be stressed out. Busy, yes. But never too busy to talk to you, answer a question, or help you — like the ER doctor I just happened to bump into, as I rushed to keep a lab appointment. He dropped everything to personally take me there, so I wouldn't be late. What a relief.”
Another big relief ... seeing how well that large staff got the job done.
“It's a truly systematic environment. Things move so well. Everything is handled so efficiently. It really lowers your stress level, helps you relax and focus on getting better.
For Samson, “getting better” required another 12 hours of complicated surgery. Among other things, Yamzon and his team had to remove one of Samson’s kidneys. But now, more than a year later, Samson is fully recovered, cancer-free, his blood work is normal, and he's looking forward to more good times with Layla and her mother, Samson's partner Josephine Abe (“my rock,” he says).
The best treatments, the best doctors – in one place
There's something very reassuring about having access to the most innovative treatments from doctors at the top of their field, supplemented by City of Hope’s unparalleled long-term follow-up program, which honors the institution’s core “whole patient” philosophy.
Samson knows how lucky he is.
“This has been a blessing in disguise,” he said. “Illness forces you to confront yourself, examine your life, your choices.” One choice he wishes he'd made after his first bout, was to more diligently stick to his follow-up visit schedule ... it's quite possible his recurrence would have been detected sooner, and his kidney saved. Many men fall into that same trap, afraid of hearing bad news a second time.
“Trust me, the fear that comes from not knowing is way more stressful than finding out. As soon as you feel something may be wrong, don't wait. Do something.
“And stay happy!”
Learn more about the testicular cancer program at City of Hope.
Learn more about becoming a patient or getting a second opinion by visiting our website or by calling 800-826-HOPE (4673). You may also request a new patient appointment online. City of Hope staff will explain what's required for a consult at City of Hope and help you determine, before you come in, whether or not your insurance will pay for the appointment.