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Survivor Interview – Jerry K.

Jerry, a testicular cancer survivor, discusses getting involved in the cancer community, telling others about his survivorship, and finding meaning in his life.

A close-up image of a middle-aged man being interviewed against a black background

I became a testicular cancer survivor when I was diagnosed in January of 2000.

My dad had recently died from brain cancer. It had been a few years, but because I had been through everything with my dad, I knew what my family was going to feel. I knew all the panic that sets in. I needed some information, and I knew I could get some stuff on the Internet, which was a good source throughout my dad’s cancer. I remembered Lance’s story. He had just won his first Tour six months prior to that. So I found the Foundation Web site just a few minutes after I was diagnosed, and here was this great story. I didn’t know anything about Lance or cycling, and that really didn’t matter. It was some guy that had cancer and he was still alive. That was the story that I needed to tell my family when I said, “Hey, I’ve got cancer.” So I made it through the initial stages of all of that, telling everybody. It was still a panic, but I felt like we really got through all of that because I got an early diagnosis.

As we came up on a year after my diagnosis, we were going to have a little party. I called my mom to tell her we were getting together and she ended up calling me back. Instead of calling me back about the party, she was calling to tell me she had just been diagnosed with breast cancer. So it was a long stretch there. But she also got an early diagnosis and ripped through hers and is still doing great.

I think there was a lot of fear and stress. It’s tied to a lack of knowledge. Typically when people are diagnosed, they don’t know anything about it. They spend the first week trying to remember the name of the type of cancer they have, and they don’t know what to ask the doctors, or they don’t know who to ask. They might know somebody that had cancer before, and they may try to talk to them. I think in the past, there’s never been a good, central place where people could go to get information. I think that’s one of the most critical things they need. The information gives hope to people because they can see other survivors, and they can see that they have some treatment options.

When we first got involved with the Peloton Project at the Lance Armstrong Foundation, we had raised some money and decided to go to Austin for Ride for the Roses weekend. I didn’t really know what to expect. It was a great, fun weekend. There were celebrities there, and we met Lance and all that was real fun. But the thing that really stuck with us was the other survivors there and the words that they shared. When we went back home, we couldn’t wait to start raising money or doing something. We were already planning for going back the next year.

My wife’s dad didn’t really understand why we had bought the expensive bikes, and we then had to take them to Austin to ride. But the cycling was kind of a side aspect to it really. When we got back home, he asked us if we had a good time. And we said, “Oh, yeah.” We told him about meeting people and the stories, and he still wasn’t buying into all of it. He said, “Well, yeah. But would you go back again?” And my wife said, “Oh, we’re going back until there’s no more cancer.” So that was what we took away from that weekend. It’s something we look forward to every year, seeing other survivors and hearing their stories. There are hard parts about the weekend. We are always making friends that we later lose to cancer – that happens just about every year. But something always keeps us going back to it.

We have also had a booth for the Foundation at the Tour de Georgia all three years that it has been in existence. The first year, it was smaller but we had a good time, and we shared some information with people. Then we went back the next year, and then wouldn’t you know it, Lance ended up riding there. So we had a lot bigger interest, a bigger group of people and raised more money. And then this year, it was even bigger. But even though we raised thousands of dollars, we still remember the people that we met there. This year, we had a girl that came up to the booth who had come up last year and had remembered talking to me. A couple of months after that, she was diagnosed with cancer, and I had given her some information when she was at the booth. She didn’t know she had cancer then. But she came back to share her story with us, and said, “Thank y’all so much for what you did last year.”

Being willing to share your cancer story, I found, inspires other cancer survivors. We run into that all the time, and you don’t have to be famous. You hear some of the stories when there’s a celebrity that’s involved, but that’s not what makes the difference. It’s just being a survivor and telling your story. My wife and I just took a vacation. We went to the beach for a long weekend. We went in the restaurant, and the place was packed. We were going to have to wait a couple of hours on a table. There were two girls sitting there, and they said, “Hey, y’all can sit with us.” So we sat down and just started chatting. Angie mentioned that we had been to France for the Tour de France. Angie said, “Jerry’s a cancer survivor, and we’re involved with the Lance Armstrong Foundation.” The girl sitting across the table, you could just see how her face changed. She leaned over and said, “I’m a cancer survivor. I’m on my third round with breast cancer.” So it was like this immediate connection, and she wanted to hear our story, and she wanted to tell us hers. But it was inspiring to her that we were doing something to try and help.

Whenever we’re talking to people and sharing our story, we tell them about ways to get involved with the Peloton Project, if they want to do something in their own community. They can do things to raise awareness or raise money. We’ll tell them about the Web site and how there are links where they can look up politicians in their area. It makes a difference to send a letter or send an email to somebody.

I’m really honored to be a part of Livestrong Day for the LAF and to come to Washington to talk to members of Congress. In the past, I never felt like you could do something that would make a difference or that a politician would listen to you. I think coming to Washington, where you’re sitting down across the table from them, and you really have their attention, even if it’s for just a couple of minutes, really makes a difference. I hope that that sticks with them, that people care enough to come to try and make a difference. I think it has a much greater impact for a cancer survivor to talk to a politician about doing something to make a difference because it’s not just a lobbyist that’s paid to talk about an issue. It’s somebody that has been through it or is going through it, or maybe going through it for years to come. It’s that direct connection.

Not a day goes by that we’re not talking about something to do with cancer, or something about the Foundation. I’ll get an email from somebody and I’ll talk to my wife about that. Or somebody at her work will contact her because somebody was diagnosed with cancer, and they needed some help, and they call us or email us. It’s changed our lives for the better, for sure. I used to go to work and come home, and at the end of the day, didn’t always have much to show for it. I didn’t have a purpose that was making a difference anywhere. It feels like the day has a purpose – that we’re doing something now. So my life has a focus and a direction.

Livestrong is an embodiment of survivorship. It’s being willing to share your story with others. I know that that has an impact on people. It spreads, and it gets other people involved, and that inspires other people, whether they’re newly diagnosed or down the road. It’s like the wristband. It’s a really small thing, but look how it spreads. They’re all over now. There are cancer survivors all over now. The more you’re willing to share that story, it lets other people know that there are people working to raise awareness, raise the money, be an advocate, go and talk to politicians, and try to get more funding. All of that is, in the end, going to help. At the end of the day, it hits everybody, whether you’re diagnosed, you know somebody’s that diagnosed, or you haven’t had any contact with the cancer community. You will. Sooner or later, everybody’s going to get touched.

My name is Jerry Kelly, and I’m a five-year testicular cancer survivor.

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