Sat. May 18th, 2024

When Sal Gomez felt the pain in his testicle and back, he thought he pulled a muscle. When it went away and returned, tests revealed it was testicular cancer.
When Sal Gomez was diagnosed with testicular cancer at 25 he felt surprised. But he’s sharing his story to increase awareness of the cancer that impacts mostly young men.

Last year, Sal Gomez noticed he felt pain in his right testicle and lower back. The third-year medical student thought maybe he pulled a muscle while working or exercising. When the pain didn’t go away, he visited his doctor and learned the reason for his ache: He had testicular cancer.

“I was really thinking I hurt myself, and I was super busy with the surgical rotation. It’s like a 5 a.m. to 5 p.m. type of thing,” Gomez, 26, a medical student at The Ohio State College of Medicine, tells TODAY.com. “I was shocked being 25 years old and diagnosed with cancer.”

Gomez is sharing his story to raise awareness of testicular cancer, a rare cancer that impacts mostly teens and young adults.

“We should talk about it more because it’s the most common cancer, although rare, in young men,” he says. “You’re in the prime of your life.”

After 12-hour days in the hospital as a medical student in a surgical rotation and then studying all night, Gomez thought when he first felt the pain in his testicle and back that he had pulled a muscle.

The chemotherapy used for testicular cancer is known for making people feel nauseous and Sal Gomez had to grapple with that feeling for much of his treatment.
“I wasn’t really sure why it was going on there. I never had anything like that before,” he recalls. “After two weeks, it wasn’t really going away or getting better.” Gomez performed a self-examination on his testicle and didn’t feel any “lumps or bumps,” but he still scheduled an appointment with his primary care physician. “He wasn’t super concerned about what was going on,” Gomez says. “He did order a bunch of labs and an ultrasound.”

Gomez started to feel better, and with his busy schedule, he put off his ultrasound. Based on what he’d learned in medical school, he didn’t think he had the classic signs of testicular cancer.

“When you learn about testicular cancer, you learn symptoms like a lump,” he says. “You really don’t think about cancer being painful. You usually think of a pea-sized lump (on) a testicle that’s not painful but maybe has some kind of enlargement.”

But the pain returned, and by January, he resigned himself to undergoing the ultrasound.

“Pain really shouldn’t be coming and going,” Gomez says. “I did another exam, and at the time, I didn’t feel a lot there.”

But the ultrasound found a mass.

“There are not really many benign tumors in the testicle, and mine looked particularly cancerous,” he says. “I was really surprised.”

Soon after, Gomez met with an oncologist to come up with a treatment plan. Because he had back pain as well, doctors worried the cancer had spread.

“A couple of days later, I got a CT scan of my abdomen and my (pelvis) that revealed what the back pain was,” Gomez says. “I had these very enlarged lymph nodes in my lower back area, up around where my kidneys are.”

Even after chemotherapy, Sal Gomez’s lymph nodes looked enlarged. He underwent an 8-hour-long procedure to have some removed.
The size of his lymph nodes was a worrying discovery because testicular often moves into the kidneys, Gomez says. But fortunately additional scans revealed that it hadn’t spread.

About a week later, he had his testicle removed and learned he had stage 2 testicular cancer. He would need chemotherapy.

“I did nine weeks of chemotherapy after having the primary tumor removed. It was pretty brutal,” Gomez says, adding that his treatment often induced nausea.

Follow-up scans revealed that his lymph nodes responded to the chemo somewhat, but they were still enlarged enough that Gomez’s doctors believed there could still be cancer. So, they performed a lymph node dissection, an eight-hour procedure to remove them.