Let's talk about testicular cancer — The Andy Rhinehart storyPart II of the Cancer Awareness Series
Andy Rhinehart, 46, doesn’t feel like a cancer survivor. He feels incredibly blessed to have a successful career, a loving family and 27 years of remission.
And while his battle with cancer was relatively short-lived, it has left a lasting impression.
Rhinehart grew up in Haywood County, the son of Phillip and Jane Rhinehart, and graduated from Pisgah High School in 1986. He has been involved with journalism his entire professional life, including a stint at The Mountaineer, and currently resides in Columbus with his wife, Leslie, and two teenage children, Sesalie and Sam.
In 1987, late into the second semester of his freshman year at the University of North Carolina in Asheville, a 19-year old Rhinehart noticed something was different.
“I just happened to notice one day a small lump on my right testicle,” Rhinehart said. “I had been playing a lot of recreation basketball at the time, and as far as I know there is no history of testicular cancer in my family. So I thought perhaps I had been kicked or hit while playing and didn't remember it.”
Going to school full time, as well as working as a sports correspondent at The Mountaineer, kept Rhinehart very busy. The lump didn’t give him much thought. Lucky for him, he happened to mention it to his wife — then his fiancée — and she suggested he call his doctor.
“She's always been the brains of our family, and I'm glad she was smart enough to realize there might be a problem and suggest I do something about it,” Rhinehart said.
Rhinehart saw his family doctor in early May 1987, and was immediately seen by a urologist the next day. After a couple of tests, the urologist suggested surgery the following day to definitively determine the problem.
“I'm sure he already had an idea, but didn't want to alarm me or my family,” Rhinehart said. “I was about to begin final exams, so I asked to delay the surgery until after the exams. The urologist didn't want to wait that long, so I … had the surgery a few days later.”
Following the successful removal of the lump — which turned out to indeed be testicular cancer — Rhinehart underwent 20 radiation treatments at Mission Hospital from May to June 1987. He was still filling in for the summer as interim sports editor at The Mountaineer, and would work until mid-afternoon and then drive to Asheville for treatment.
He has since had regular checkups to confirm that the cancer has remained in remission.
Rhinehart’s story is a success, and he says he owes it to the insistence of his wife and the prompt action that was taken.
“I've had no long-term problems,” Rhinehart said. “I've been cancer-free for 27 years, I'll celebrate my 25th wedding anniversary later this year and I've got two amazing kids. Other than the obvious physical impact, since my surgery and treatment I've been blessed to have a wonderful, cancer-free life.”
And while he’s a cancer survivor, he doesn’t feel like one.
“I went into the operating room that morning not knowing what was wrong, and not even considering that I might have cancer, and I woke up hours later with the cancer gone,” Rhinehart said. “So I never had to deal with the emotions of actually having cancer, just the aftermath.”
While the experience was emotional, it was very different from the experiences of many other cancer patients.
“I was largely able to avoid much of the horrors of cancer, and that has made me feel both extremely fortunate and extremely guilty when I see those who have suffered so much,” Rhinehart said.
According to the most recent statistics from the American Cancer Society, there were 8,820 new cases of testicular cancer in the United States in 2013 and only 380 deaths. Testicular cancer is one of the most curable forms of cancer, and because treatment is usually successful, the risk of dying is only 1 in 5,000. Early detection only increases the chance of success.
“It's important for men to perform a self-test at least once a month,” Rhinehart said. “It's easy to do and can truly save your life. If you do notice something unusual, see your family doctor right away. Don't be embarrassed, don't be ashamed; just be proactive and do so. It truly could be a life-saving decision.”
And while Rhinehart has mixed feelings about being labeled a survivor, there is one thing his story absolutely embodies — hope. His story gives courage to those fighting that there can be life after cancer, that we are moving closer to finding a cure and that a cancer diagnosis is not, by default, a death sentence.
For more information about testicular cancer, as well as instructions on self-testing, visit www.cancer.org/cancer/testicularcancer/index.