Beginning November 2014, after seeing the initiative from Hermano Quedwin Medina (SPR ’08, H), La Unidad Latina, Lambda Upsilon Lambda Fraternity, Inc. made the decision to nationally join the Movember movement in order to begin raising awareness on issues of men’s health including mental health, prostate cancer, and testicular cancer. “The Movember Foundation challenges men to grow moustaches during Movember, to spark conversation and raise vital funds for its men’s health programs.” Utilizing the hashtag #MoLambdas, Hermanos from across the country began to join, growing moustaches and raising money for the Movember Foundation. According to its website, “the Movember Foundation is the leading global organization committed to changing the face of men’s health.” Having “raised $559 million to date and funded over 800 programs in 21 countries”, the national leadership saw this as an opportunity for Hermanos all over the world to get involved in raising awareness about health issues affecting men everywhere. If you wish to learn more about #Movember, or are interested in supporting Hermanos currently participating, please visit our national network here: http://monetwork.co/Lambdas1982
As we begin to reach the end of Movember, we would like to share the story of Hermano Erik Paulino (SPR ’90, ∆), a two-time testicular cancer survivor who, in light of the recent Movember initiative, has decided to share his journey and story of survival in his own words:
My name is Erik Paulino, and I am 43 years old. I’m an Hermano of La Unidad Latina, Lambda Upsilon Lambda Fraternity, Inc., and pledged at the University of Pennsylvania (Delta Chapter) in the Spring of 1990. I’m married, and have been with my wife Aida for over 10 years. We have beautiful 2-year-old twin daughters.
I am also a two-time testicular cancer survivor; six years in remission.
I was first diagnosed with testicular cancer in one testis when I was 35 years old, which is peculiar being that 35 is normally considered the end of the age range for men to be at high risk for the disease. As you can imagine, the first time being told that you have cancer even though you never felt anything out of the ordinary, or even felt pain, was unbelievable. The questions were overflowing and constant throughout that time. Most significantly I wanted to know – Why? What caused it? Why there? Can only the bad cells just be surgically removed, leaving the testis? How will this change my sex life? Will I be able to have kids?
When one thinks of cancer, images of the effects of chemo – people losing all of their hair – come to mind. Death comes to mind. Lifelong infertility comes to mind. With these images swirling in my mind, I decided I wanted to have the best treatment available, and went to Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital in the Upper East Side where I had me diagnosis confirmed, and the doctors decided that the best course of action would need to be an orchiectomy, a month of radiation, and ongoing surveillance. Before we could move forward, I was strongly urged to bank sperm. Because, even though I would still have one testis, it’s never known what the overall effects the radiation may have.
Banking sperm, especially when your state of mind is disturbed with the sense that your time is limited as the surgery needs to happen as soon as possible, is not pleasant, but I was able to bank some vials and have them cryopreserved. This will eventually prove to be one of my greatest decisions and lead to sun shines later in life.
On June 2, 2006, I had the surgery, which was successful, and before I fully recovered, I had to start radiation, which entailed daily doses on the inguinal lymphatic region that left me extremely fatigued, but still able to report to work.
After radiation, that was it. I was done with the hard part. Now I just needed to report for regular monthly x-rays and annual CT-scans, in addition to medical exams to make sure the cancer stayed in remission. I was told the radiation should’ve done its job of “killing” any lingering cancer cells and that it would decrease my chances for a recurrence from 16 percent to a mere 4 percent. The remaining testis would produce enough testosterone and sperm for my body’s needs. You only really need one, I was constantly told.
I continued with my life, with a greater appreciation for life as the experience made me more grateful for what I had, and for those that loved me. I was now a cancer survivor.
Two years later, at 37 years of age, I reported for a regular medical appointment at the hospital, and was told news that no testicular cancer survivor wants to hear, my remaining testis had cancer cells. In essence, the cancer was back. With this cancer resurgence, the normal medical response would be radiation, chemotherapy, and retroperitoneal lymph node dissection, along with the necessary orchiectomy.
Now I was really scared. Surgery would be more invasive, permanently affecting my immune system with the removal of critical lymph nodes. At this point, I’ve heard more horror stories about chemo, in addition to fear of the unknown. What if I go through all this, and it comes back again? The risk was already just 4 percent, and it came back! Maybe this is worse than they originally thought. Depression started setting in. But I had to keep strong. I had to trust in God and rely on the support of my loved ones.
I was told that an orchiectomy and aggressive surveillance would be the best course of action. The second orchiectomy was a success, but now my body had no way of producing sperm or testosterone. My initial cryopreserved sperm was it…for the rest of my life.
Testosterone replacement was handled with daily doses of Androgel, and I once again continued with my life, now riddled with more regular x-rays, blood tests, ct-scans, and medical appointments.
Amidst all this, later that year, I got engaged, and married the following September 2009. A year later, my wife and I decided to look into the feasibility of birthing a child, and met with fertility doctors at Cornell Weill Medical Center. We had no way of knowing if the cryopreserved sperm would be useable once it was thawed, let alone the high possibility of the procedure not working. I had no idea how many of the vials of sperm would be used, or if all would be consumed in one attempt.
To make a long story short, my twin daughters, Camila Belen and Valentina Chloe were born on December 2011, after a successful in-vitro fertilization in April 2011.
My life has been blessed. Without this story, these girls would not be sleeping in their beds as I type these words. Now, with six years in remission, my ct-scans are back to being annual, and x-rays/medical exams are semi-annual. Testosterone replacement is currently done with a dozen pellets surgically inserted into my flanks every three months as Androgel is no longer an option because of the danger of exposure to my young children. All-in-all these are small prices to pay in order to live the blessed life I have been given.
We, as men, don’t care enough about ourselves. Too many of us have lost fathers, uncles, brothers, and grandfathers to illnesses that are preventable. We can stop smoking. We can drink moderately. We can eat well. We can exercise. We can go for regular medical check-ups. We can protect ourselves. We cannot ignore signs of ailment. We have a responsibility to ourselves, and our loved ones to keep ourselves well to the best of our ability. It’s time to ensure that we, as men, raise awareness about the issues that plague our gender.