When somebody signs up for the military, they knowingly subject themselves to numerous risks and dangers. It’s just part of the job. Most people are concerned about the tangible threats, the ones that can be seen; such as bullets and bombs. But it catches everybody off guard when a service member’s life is put in danger by something that can’t be seen.
Information Systems Technician 2nd Class Eric Forman had this experience while deployed aboard the aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73). On Aug. 25, 2010, after completing a 14-hour shift, Forman decided to end his day with a hot shower before hitting his rack for the night. It was while showering when he discovered something that didn’t feel right.
“I was washing my body, starting from up top and working my way down,” explained Forman. “When I got to my groin…ouch! My left testicle was extremely painful and very sensitive, and felt like there were multiple calluses encompassing it.”
After initially brushing it off as a temporary pain that would go away, Forman made it a week until the pain became too unbearable. In the beginning of September, Forman made his way to medical to be examined.
“The Chief Medical Officer and surgeon both took a look at me,” explained Forman, saying that at this point he wasn’t really worried about what was happening down there. “But, the doctors said the growth was concerning and that an ultrasound should be done on it; just to be safe.”
Since George Washington’s medical department didn’t have the ultrasound equipment, they flew Forman back to his homeport in Yokosuka, Japan to receive more appropriate medical care.
At the time, Forman says he was not concerned.
“I had no idea what would come of the ultrasound, but never in a million years did I think it would be all that serious or anything,” revealed Forman. “I only packed half a sea bag with some clothes and my computer, fully expecting to be back on the ship in about a week.”
However, the diagnosis had something completely different in store for him. With the results of his ultrasound and blood tests, Forman received some devastating news.
“They told me that I would be going into surgery in 20 hours,” said Forman, explaining that at that point the doctors still didn’t know what the growth was. “It was concerning, but they wanted to remove the mass just to be safe.” Seven days after his first visit to medical, Forman went in for a unilateral orchiectomy: the removal of his left testicle. After the surgery, the sample was flown to Naval Medical Center San Diego (NMCSD) for biopsy to determine what exactly was the growth.
After some time to heal from the surgery, Forman went in for more blood tests and a computerized tomography (CT) scan.
It was on Tuesday, Sept. 21, that Forman was given two additional blows:
First, that the growth on his testicle was Embryonic Testicular Cancer. And second, the cancer had spread into his lymphoid system – basically giving the cancer a highway to spread throughout his body.
“Honestly, after being officially diagnosed with cancer, I was somewhat relieved,” said Forman. “I felt then, at that point, I at least knew that my testicle was not taken on a whim. That it was taken for a good cause.”
Less than a week later, Forman landed in San Diego, where he checked into a temporary hold unit for Sailors on medical standby, and began chemotherapy treatments at NMCSD in an attempt to rid his body of the deadly cancer. Forman requested to be treated in San Diego because he would be close to family and friends, including his girlfriend and future wife, Nicole.
“I was with him from the beginning,” said Nicole. “Even though we weren’t dating for that long at the time, I went to all the doctor appointments and chemotherapy treatments. I was there to help him get through it all.”
It was at that point that Forman realized that there was not only a chance that this cancer could take his life, but more importantly it could potentially ruin two lifelong goals of his.
“At first you could say that I was a little concerned,” said Forman. “Being in the Navy has always been a huge goal of mine, and if this cancer was what would get me out, then I would have been completely devastated.”
But it wasn’t only the chance of being processed out of Naval service that worried Forman, it was also the chance of becoming infertile for the rest of his life and never being able to have children of his own.
The doctors informed Forman that there was a 50 percent chance that the chemotherapy would render him completely infertile.
With those statistics in mind, Forman made a few donations at a local sperm bank.
With the cancer spreading through his body, Forman couldn’t deny chemotherapy treatments and risk his life just to avoid becoming infertile. He left his life and ambitions in the hands of the chemotherapy.
“I guess you could say that the whole situation left me in a bit of a shell shock,” admitted Forman, pressing the point that although there was a chance the cancer could overtake his body and kill him, he was worried most about potentially never having kids and being discharged from the Navy. “Getting hit with cancer at the age of 20 kind of threw me off a little bit.”
His chemotherapy sessions began in the middle of October. Each session lasted four hours a day for five days straight. The treatments continued until New Years Eve.
Once the first round of chemotherapy finished, Forman went in for more blood tests and another CT scan in the beginning of 2011. The results from the blood tests showed that the chemotherapy worked. It destroyed the majority of cancer throughout his body; however, the CT scan showed enlarged lymph nodes in his aortic track and lungs.
The doctors suggested a retroperitoneal lymph node dissection, a risky surgery that would require a nearly foot-long incision down the middle of his chest. They said that the growths were probably nothing, probably benign, but that they could possibly come back later on in life.
The two enlarged lymph nodes in his aortic track would be removed, but doctors wouldn’t remove the one in his lung, saying the procedure was far more of a risk than leaving it in. It is something he will have to monitor for the rest of his life.
“I decided to go through with the surgery because I really just wanted to end that chapter of my life,” explained Forman with the realization that if the surgery didn’t work, then he would most likely be processed out of the Navy, forever ending his life-long dream of serving. “I just wanted to get back to what I wanted to do with my life.”
Forman went into surgery on the morning of June 9, 2011 and awoke that evening with the surgery completed. After a short recovery period, he was medically cleared for active duty, and reported back just over a month later. His Navy career continues but the same positive outcome could not be said for his chance of someday starting a family.
“To hell with the cancer. The chemotherapy was nothing. The surgeries were nothing. It was the after effects of cancer that hit me the hardest,” Forman said. “It was when the doctors told me that my chances of ever being able to have my own kids dropped by 90 percent that I realized what the cancer really did to me. It took what I wanted most right out of my hands. It was devastating.”
Nicole, whom Forman married that November, explained that, “Even though he had this trail to overcome, he was such a strong and positive person through it all, and I love him so much for it.”
After nearly a yearlong battle with cancer and with continuing medical checkups, Forman refuses to let his situation bring him too far down.
“It would actually amaze me sometimes at how well I dealt with everything,” concluded Forman. “People would tell me how surprised they were at how I could keep a positive attitude throughout everything. How I could make jokes and smile.
“But honestly, I learned to just be grateful for the little things. I had a lot taken from me, so now I just live every day, day-by-day. Once you hit rock bottom, the only way you can go from there is up.”
Forman continues his service and checked aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD 4) on January 16, 2013.
And for now, Forman and Nicole are still hopeful in their future chances of having children of their own.