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Jan 24, 2017 11:15 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Westhampton Man, 22, Battling Rare And Aggressive Form Of Testicular Cancer

Cristian Ospina, 22, is battling a rare form of cancer with the help of his girlfriend and support system, Ashley Beecher, 26. BY ERIN MCKINLEY
Jan 24, 2017 1:12 PM

Cristian Ospina recalls being in a good mood while sitting on a bed in Stony Brook University Hospital’s emergency room on December 1.It had been four hours since he entered the medical center, a visit he had been putting off for months because, like many 22-year-olds, he does not have health insurance and thought he was suffering from a routine hernia.

But after enduring almost two months of pain and discomfort in his stomach, and swelling in his left testicle, the Westhampton resident—with a gentle push from his girlfriend, 27-year-old Ashley Beecher—finally gave in and went to the hospital.

“It’s cancer,” he recalled saying to his girlfriend while awaiting the results of his CAT scan. He was joking—and the joke earned him a gentle smack and a stern look from Ms. Beecher.

He had no idea that, just a few minutes later, a serious-looking doctor would enter his room and utter those same words—this time with no hint of humor.

“I just thought it was a hernia, that I had hurt myself or something like that, so I didn’t really pay attention to it,” said Mr. Ospina, a plumber by trade, while recalling his initial symptoms during an interview this week. “It is tough. It was hard when I was diagnosed. It was a big surprise to me.”

It has been nearly two months since Mr. Ospina was diagnosed with testicular choriocarcinoma, a rare and aggressive form of testicular cancer, and his life is far from returning to normal. He recently returned home following a 10-day stint at Stony Brook University Hospital after having his left testicle removed and completing his first of four rounds of aggressive chemotherapy—individual treatments that run for several weeks and are scheduled to be administered over the next year.

The chemotherapy treatments must be aggressive because the cancer has already spread; tests have revealed tumors in both of Mr. Ospina’s lungs and his abdomen. As part of his new schedule, Mr. Ospina must travel once a week to the outpatient center at Stony Brook to receive his intravenous treatments. His doctors have already informed him that he will be unable to return to work for at least the next year, as the chemotherapy has left him weak and tired, and also compromised his immune system. Once he completes his treatments, his doctors will decide the next course of action.

To help offset her boyfriend’s day-to-day and medical expenses over the next year, Ms. Beecher recently established a GoFundMe account for him; the page has raised more than $3,700 of its $10,000 goal as of earlier this week.

“It is just hard,” said Ms. Beecher, who works as a waitress at Giorgio’s Baiting Hollow, a catering hall in Calverton, of her boyfriend’s situation. “I am working weekends now so that I can be with him during the week when he is feeling sick to try and help him feel better.”

Still, she was quick to add that their support system has been wonderful. “With everything that has happened, we have been very lucky as far as the people we have come across, from his doctors to people donating and reacting,” Ms. Beecher added.

Testicular choriocarcinoma is a highly malignant and rare form of cancer, accounting for between 1 and 2 percent of all diagnosed cancers among American men, according to Dr. Steven Sobey, a doctor with Eastern Suffolk Urology, an affiliate of Southampton Hospital. The cancer is more typically found in the uteri of women, though it can also appear in the testicles, according to medical journal MedScape. When the cancer does show up in men, those between the ages of 15 and 35 typically develop it, studies have shown.

The main difference between choriocarcinoma and other forms of testicular cancer, Dr. Sobey said, is how rapidly it spreads, with new tumors forming within weeks of diagnosis in many cases. The good news is that while aggressive, testicular choriocarcinoma is highly treatable, with a survival rate of approximately 80 percent, according to experts. That rate, however, is lower than most other testicular cancers that have survival rates as high as 98 percent.

“It really depends on what stage the cancer is caught in,” Mr. Sobey said. “Choriocarcinoma, unfortunately, tends to be one of the more aggressive forms, but everyone is so different that it depends on where it has spread and how long it takes to diagnose.”

According to Dr. Wayne Waltzer, chairman for the Department of Urology at the Stony Brook School of Medicine, the key when dealing with testicular cancer is early diagnosis, noting that most men wait an average of six months after finding a painless mass in their testicles before seeking medical assistance. He attributes that delay to denial or fear.

“The earlier you are diagnosed, the better,” Dr. Waltzer said. “You want to be diagnosed early, because then, hopefully, it is localized to the testicle and hasn’t spread to the lymph nodes or other areas yet.”

In spite of his hesitation to visit a doctor, Mr. Ospina’s cancer has been labeled as Stage 1B; there are three stages of his testicular cancer, as well as different sub-stages, with Stage 3 being the most advanced.

While he only recently started his chemotherapy, Mr. Ospina said he is putting all of his energy into fighting the disease while also using his experience to encourage friends and family to be vigilant when it comes to their health—stressing that they should not do what he did and ignore what turned out to be important warning signs. He stressed that there are several warnings that one is suffering from testicular cancer, including the presence of lumps and stomach pains.

“If you feel something weird, you should go right away,” Mr. Ospina said. “Your testicles can tell you a lot about your health. I hadn’t been to the doctor in three years, no check-up or anything, because I am young and thought I was fine. I never thought something like this could happen. I was wrong.”

According to the American Cancer Society, the warning signs of testicular cancer can include: lumps or swelling in the testicles, breast growth caused by cells secreting higher levels of hormones, lower back pain, shortness of breath, chest and stomach pain, and even a persistent cough. Experts also note that cancer can sometimes appear without such warning signs, stressing the importance of scheduling annual physicals.

In Mr. Ospina’s case, he said he first started feeling pain in the fall, noting that his left testicle was slightly swollen. Then one day while lifting something, he felt a sharp pain in his stomach causing him to faint. Wrongly thinking he suffered a hernia, he took it easy for a few weeks and the pain eventually subsided. Then in October, Mr. Ospina recalls being woken over several nights by a sharp pain in his abdomen—and those are what pushed Ms. Beecher to lean on her boyfriend to get checked out by a doctor.

He continued to delay, however, and the swelling in his testicle grew worse until, finally, the pain was so intense that he could no longer ignore it and he went to the emergency room.

“I was very upset, it was just not what I expected,” Ms. Beecher said of the eventual diagnosis. “I have had a hernia myself, so it just seemed like a textbook case and that was what it was going to be. I was shocked.”

Both Mr. Ospina and Ms. Beecher are thankful for all of the help they have received so far. Explaining that he does not qualify for unemployment benefits or disability, Mr. Ospina said he intends to use the donations to pay his rent and cover his mounting medical bills. He noted that most of his family is in Colombia, so he cannot lean on them for support.

“It has been really surprising how many people have reached out and donated so quickly,” Ms. Beecher said. “It has been really overwhelming.”

As for Mr. Ospina, who has lost 18 pounds in the past month and now weighs 150 pounds, he is focusing on keeping his spirits up. “If something happens to you just keep positive and don’t let yourself down,” he said. “Anybody can go through it, and if you are positive, it helps. I believe in the power of the mind.”

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Stay positive Mr Ospina and Ms Beecher!! Power of the mind is important. Healthy eating right now is also very important. You can go online to find the foods your body needs right now. It will make a difference, just as sharing your story will make a difference in someone else's life. Most people are unaware that the age for testicular cancer is between 15 and 35 years old. I hope by sharing your story, it will encourage parents to teach theirs sons about this, or schools to teach this in health ...more
By toes in the water (884), southampton on Jan 24, 17 4:54 PM
There was an interesting study completed recently about the hydrogen peroxide pathway in human cells. It appears that malignant cells can't handle H2O2 like healthy cells can. When vitamin C is broken down in the body, a byproduct is H2O2.

Loosely translated, vitamin C can help destroy tumors.
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Jan 24, 17 7:13 PM
1 member liked this comment
Wow Mr z we spend billions on cancer tesearch and it was vitamin c the whole time. You are so smart.
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Jan 24, 17 8:17 PM
Actually, high dose IVC has been proven to terminate malignant cells. The high levels of ascorbate lead to H2O2 production.

Do you ever tire of being a horse's patootie?
Jan 25, 17 10:17 PM appended by Mr. Z
Source: Doskey CM, Buranasudja V, Wagner BA, Wilkes JG, Du J, Cullen JJ, Buettner GR.Tumor cells have decreased ability to metabolize H 2 O 2 : Implications for pharmacological ascorbate in cancer therapy. Redox Biology . 2017
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Jan 25, 17 10:17 PM
Wow chief! I find your remark rather rude and insensitive for this article! . Mr Z's comment was smart actually and helpful.
Have u ever heard of Dr Max Gerson?? According to his research , he cured 50 terminally ill cancer patients with diet !! And his work was banned from the US. We may spend billions on cancer research but...
By toes in the water (884), southampton on Jan 26, 17 8:53 AM
1 member liked this comment
Positive thinking will help you Mr. O. Good luck!!!
By Ibill (47), remsenburg on Jan 26, 17 11:51 AM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By annlsherry (2), Hampton Bays on Jan 30, 17 8:15 AM
I did the same thing. I fell onto a cabinet on my right breast and thought the lump was a hematoma. After four months the doctor insisted I get it scanned.
Stage 3.
By par3 (2), southampton on Jan 31, 17 10:07 AM
Positive thinking may help your state of mind, but it is not a replacement for proven treatment. Telling those with cancer to be positive does not always make them feel better. Just tell them you are here for them and will help in any way you can. And do it. Been there, done that, on both sides.
By Taz (725), East Quogue on Jan 31, 17 10:20 AM