In early 2011, Josh noticed a bump in his stomach around his navel. He thought the bump was a hernia, and his doctor initially agreed. Josh was scheduled for surgery, but pre-op blood work revealed surprising news. Russellâ€™s â€śherniaâ€ť was actually a tumor. He had testicular cancer.
â€śI was in shock,â€ť says the Benton, Wisconsin, resident. But he didnâ€™t have time to dwell on that. â€śI got the news on a Friday and started chemotherapy on Monday.â€ť
Four months of treatment did little to slow the cancer. In fact, it was spreading.
â€śI had tumors from my groin to the lower part of my throat,â€ť says Josh, whose prognosis looked grim. â€śAfter I finished chemo, they gave me six months to live. They wanted me to go home and start hospice.â€ť
But that wasnâ€™t a prognosis that Josh, then just 30 years old, or his family were willing to accept.Â
Looking for an answer at Mayo
â€śWe all started scouring the Internet for top hospitals,â€ť he says. â€śMy sister contacted Mayo. Within a week, they were looking me over.â€ť
While Mayo physicians agreed with the diagnosis Josh had received, they didnâ€™t agree that heâ€™d exhausted all treatment options. Josh had been told that surgery was his only hope for a cure. But the doctors he'd met with felt surgery was too risky.
â€śBut at Mayo, they were willing to try surgery," says Josh "They didnâ€™t promise anything, but they were going to give me a chance.â€ť
â€śAfter I finished chemo, they gave me six months to live. They wanted me to go home and start hospiceÂ ...Â But at Mayo, they were willing to try surgery.Â They didnâ€™t promise anything, but they were going to give me a chance.â€ť
And suddenly, Josh began to feel something he hadnâ€™t since his diagnosis: Hope.
â€śWhen I was first diagnosed, I thought I was going to die,â€ť he says. â€śAfter I got to Mayo Clinic, that changed. Mayo didnâ€™t want to accept the six-month prognosis. They gave me hope.â€ť
That hope centered around a series of surgeries to remove the tumors in Joshâ€™s body. Those tumors were removed in nine operations over three years, some of those operations lasting as long as 14 or 16 hours. Bradley Leibovich, M.D., a urologist and chair of the Department of Urology, and Claude Deschamps, M.D., then a thoracic and cardiac surgeon at Mayo Clinic, were Russellâ€™s surgeons.
â€śThey are two of the greatest guys Iâ€™ve ever met,â€ť Josh says. â€śIf not for those two, I donâ€™t think Iâ€™d be here.â€ť
Back to thinking about the future
Nearly four years after his initial diagnosis, Josh is still here â€” and planning for the future. That future includes marrying his fiancĂ©, Ashley, whom Russell proposed to back in 2011. The couple postponed setting a wedding date until Russell completed treatment, and are looking forward to getting married in the fall of 2016.
There have been other milestones as well.
â€śIâ€™ve finally been able to go back to work, which feels great,â€ť says Josh, who works in residential construction. This summer he was able to ride his horses again, and plans to hunt this fall after having to sit out the past several hunting seasons.
Before having cancer, Russell didnâ€™t think too much about working, riding and hunting. But now, the lens through which he views life has changed. â€śI donâ€™t take anything for granted anymore,â€ť he says. â€śI live in the moment. Iâ€™m overjoyed that Iâ€™m still here.â€ť
Heâ€™s grateful to the staff at Mayo Clinic for their role in his care.
â€śEveryone at Mayo has been great to me,â€ť Josh says. â€śItâ€™s like a second home there. Mayo Clinic means everything to us.â€ť
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