I Got This: Cancer Recovery as an Athlete (Part 2)

By Sam Jorgenson

PART 2: The Recovery

 

“What in the world are you doing?”

“You said I can do anything while I’m getting chemo, so I’m doing squats.”

That was it, I made up my mind that I was going to just live, and do things that I wanted to do.  There was no way I was going to let cancer stop me from being me and working out. I eluded to this with when I mentioned ESPN anchor Stuart Scott’s approach to cancer in Part 1 of this post, about my diagnosis — I wasn’t going let cancer stop me from living. I happened to have a disease that would alter how I do things, but not change me as a person. Working out, sweating, and competing is in my DNA. It’s that simple.   

With that being said, I had a very different experience with chemo. I never got sick, or had any real side effects from the chemo, well, besides losing my hair, beard, and eyebrows. I remember messaging Dr. Feldman, my doctor at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and asking him if it would be okay if I went for a run, and getting a shocked response of, “Do you feel strong enough?” 

“I feel fine, and actually I want to go now.”

We called chemo the 84-day sprint, and that’s the attitude I took. One day at a time, one treatment at a time. I finished chemo on May 11th, 2015 and it was a crazy feeling; I had a wave of emotions hit me when the nurse looked at me and said “Congratulations.” All at once it hit as she hugged me: these 84 days have really been a journey. I quickly walked to the bathroom through the chemo clinic and tears began to flow. I regrouped and came out. Mom and I walked home as we usually did, my little thing to help get Mom moving and show her the city. New York City is very different from Burlington, Wisconsin. 

My battle wasn’t done when I was done with chemo, I would have a few surgeries following, but it was time to really get after it in the gym. I reactivated my gym membership, and joined fitness family #theprogram.  I was introduced to #theprogram from a very close friend, a college roommate and someone that will always be family to me, Webster Schelbe.  “Dude you gotta come check some of these workouts out when your doc gives you the clear to get in a gym.” I knew I had to go, I was itching to get back.

I’m often asked about this uniquely dedicated, highly successful, and incredibly passionate group of people that get up every morning and hit New York City’s boutique gym scene — all before 7am. All I can say is that this group is more than a fitness group; they have truly become family. It was such a sigh of relief to find these individuals that had goals, dreams, and fitness goals in line with mine. I wasn’t alone. 

From May 18th to June 18th of 2015, I worked out with #theprogram every day that we had a workout, along with lifting weights or cycling. I was confined to working out in a small New York City apartment for way too long, there was no way I was ever going to take a day of movement for granted. 

One thing that I haven’t mentioned: Growing up in Wisconsin, we don’t always eat the healthiest foods — but don’t get me wrong, they are good. I moved to New York in February 2012 and I was what we call Wisconsin skinny. I weighed 225 pounds, still very active, but not really dedicated to fitness or health. Being in New York, this quickly changed. By May of that year, I was 205 pounds and had pretty low body fat. That was a lot of work, not in the gym, but my diet. I had also looked at fitness as an aesthetically appealing thing, not so much total body health and wellness.

This time around I was going to do things differently, no drinking, no supplements, and most importantly it was more than just aesthetics. I was doing this to feel good, look good, and get comfortable with being uncomfortable. That meant going to different classes, at different times, and just being happy. 

June 19th, 2015 came quickly and I was feeling great, but we had a major surgery to conquer: Retroperitoneal lymph node dissection, often referred to as RPLND surgery. The best way to describe this surgery is the doc makes a 12-inch incision from your sternum to well below your waist line, pushes your guts around, and removes lymph nodes to see how effective chemo was on the cancer. Again, this surgery would be performed at Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, by Dr. Joel Sheinfeld, one of the best surgeons in the world. 

I remember asking Dr. Sheinfeld how long recovery was, and getting a response that I didn’t like. 

“12 to 15 weeks.”

“Are you shitting me?” I said.   

“This is a major surgery you’re having.” 

Hearing that was an unsettling feeling. Not only was I going to have my guts ripped apart, but I was going to be sidelined for a long time. I woke up in the recovery room so incredibly bloated, sore, and now had a scar to always remind me of how awful this disease is. The next 15 weeks were not only mentally challenging, but physically demanding.         

I was released from the hospital the following Friday, but with incredible news. One thing I failed to mention about Dr. Sheinfeld is his bedside manner. Let’s just say it’s very different from other doctors. It was getting to be that time to let me go home. I was sick of being hooked up to machines, always being woken up to have my vitals checked or have a physical therapist work on my coughing (yes, coughing).

“We’re going to remove your staples and then send you on your way. How does that sound?” 

“Great!” 

We would be removing 70 of these paper clasps that had now been in my body for six days.  But I would get a guest before we begin. 

“Is he in there?” 

“Yeah he’s behind the curtain.” 

It was Dr. Sheinfeld. He began to tell me to take it easy on myself, no lifting, running, nothing, only walking. 

“You’ve basically had open heart surgery on your abdominal region. Go slow and remember no nuts, seeds, or corn for a year.” 

“What about my biopsy results? Have we got those back?”

“Oh yeah. You’re good to go, no live cancer cells and no more treatment. Take care.” 

Wait, just like that, you tell me that we did it? I couldn’t hold it in, I burst out in tears. My step-dad opened the curtain, gave a fist pump with tears running down his face as well — wow, what a feeling.  I grabbed my phone and quickly began texting friends and family, “Cancer 0, Sam 1” followed with “Don’t call me, I can’t talk right now.” Not because I couldn’t talk, but because I wasn’t physically able to talk yet. 

The nurse began removing my staples one by one. I often get the question, “What did it feel like to have the staples removed?” It’s still hard to say, but I follow it up with, “Well I got some of the best news of my life and was on such an adrenaline rush that I can’t even tell you.”

The rest of the summer I’d spend walking the West Side Highway and everywhere in between, averaging 25 miles a day. That was my workout. I’d also get up and watch my family, #theprogram, workout on Pier 46 every week. 

ALESSANDRA AMBROSIO ROOTING ON SAM

ALESSANDRA AMBROSIO ROOTING ON SAM

During this time I would be introduced to two incredible people, Daniel Giordano and Philippos Kyriacou of Bespoke Treatments in New York City. With all of the surgery, you can imagine I had pain, swelling, and other issues. Daniel was nothing short of amazing and really got me back up and running so that when I could work out, I was ready to go. (Not only did Daniel and Philippos take me in, but they also became business partners on a new sports medicine product. More to come on that!)

I’d undergo one more surgery on my left lung to remove three small tumors. This surgery was nothing compared to the RPLND surgery. Dr Majit Bajins of Memorial Sloan Kettering would be the doctor performing that surgery. Again, I was blessed with an amazing team of surgeons. I’d only spend one night in the hospital, and got incredible news, confirmation that the tumors were just scar tissue and to get active ASAP. Yes, finally! 

So I was running three days later, cycling, and getting back at it. I now really appreciated lactic acid, being sore, and the ability to put shoes on and just go. Thanks to an incredible team of people like #theprogram, Bespoke Treatments, and friends and family, getting back to being active has been an incredible thing.  I’m doing much more than just lifting weights and running.  I’m all about trying new classes and workouts, everything from spin classes at Swerve, Kira Stokes Barre class, and Flex’s high intensity craziness at CompleteBody with #theprogram.    

What I will say is that if you can be active in any way, go for it. You never really know when you’ll wake up one morning and have your life change forever. Being in great shape, competing in sports, and having an incredible support system helped me survive cancer. Your health is so incredibly important and should never be taken for granted, and neither should happiness. Mix those two together and you’ll conquer anything. The last thing I’ll say comes from Stuart Scott’s significant other, Kristin Spodobalski: “Your life consists of two dates and a dash — so you’d better make the most of the dash.”

 

 

 

 

Born and raised in Wisconsin, Sam Jorgenson has now lived in NYC for 4 years. He graduated from the Edgewood College with a degree in Communications, and moved to NYC to help build a company in retail analytics, Things took a big turn when Sam was diagnosed with stage three testicular cancer in February of 2015. 

Sam has always been very active with sports, working out, and just full of energy. Being diagnosed and battling cancer was one of the worst things and best things to happen to him.  He now knows the value of life and lives everyday with the mindset of “be happy and follow what you’re truly passionate about.” He says, without question, being active, healthy and clear-minded are the most valuable things we can have. 

 

Find Sam at Instagram @jorge008, and Facebook Sam Jorgenson.