Matthew Fried was twenty-two years old when he was diagnosed with stage I testicular cancer. He had just graduated college and was looking forward to beginning his Masters Degree in Music Performance at Yale University. During a monthly self-exam, he noticed a lump and immediately went to his primary care doctor where an ultrasound revealed a small tumor. Matthew was sent to a urologist for a biopsy, but since there was a chance it could be a malignant mass, they did not want to perform a biopsy and risk causing the cancer to spread. Instead, an orchiectomy, or removal of the testicle, was performed and confirmed his diagnosis of testicular cancer.
“I’ve never been afraid of going to the doctor like most men my age. When I first felt the lump I knew immediately that I needed to have it checked out. I went to the initial appointment alone because I thought it would turn out to be nothing, and came home to an empty house. I tried to remember everything the doctor had told me, and just told myself that I had to get through this,” Matthew said. Matthew had Retroperitoneal Lymph Node Dissection (RPLD) surgery and was in the hospital for two weeks. RPLD is a procedure to remove abdominal lymph nodes in order to treat testicular cancer, as well as to help determine the exact stage and type of the cancer. Lymph nodes in the retroperitoneum are a primary site for the disease to spread. After the surgery Matthew’s outlook was improving and he began classes at Yale in the fall. He was also playing tuba in the Yale orchestra, a passion of his. Then, in December, during a follow-up appointment at Yale Cancer Center, he learned that the cancer had metastasized to his lung and was diagnosed with metastatic testicular cancer. “I took a final on Friday, started chemotherapy on Monday, and spent my winter break receiving the first two rounds of chemotherapy. Thankfully, I was able to receive the treatment regimen at a small office in my hometown, which was very helpful because it allowed me to be at home with my family and still receive the quality care I needed. I returned to school in January and completed the last two rounds of chemotherapy. It was important for me to stay involved and on track with my education and not let cancer make me lose sight of my goals in life,” said Matthew.
School was the biggest catalyst for getting Matthew through his chemotherapy treatments. He only missed about 12 days of classes and his GPA was the highest it had been at 3.96 that semester. No matter what obstacles he faced, there was always something pushing him forward. Receiving a diagnosis of cancer at such a young age was difficult, but Matthew had his entire future to fight for. While Matthew was undergoing treatment the greatest support came from his girlfriend of 8 years, now his fiancée. She stayed at the hospital with him, along with his mother, when he had his surgery and attended every chemotherapy treatment. Even with that strong support behind him, he found it hard without knowing someone that understood what he was going through. A turning point came during the summer when he talked for three hours with a male patient that had also had RPLD surgery.
“Although I was not embarrassed to talk to my friends about my diagnosis and treatment, most people avoided the topic as they assumed it would be uncomfortable for me. Looking back, the more I told my story and advocated for monthly self-exams, the better I felt and the more open I became. Reliving the experience by telling my story over and over has helped me to get past the scary parts and focus on the great things that came from it; I’m a happier person now. The dedication my girlfriend showed during my treatment and recovery made me realize that I absolutely had to marry her, and I’ve joined an amazing and lifelong club of people who have survived cancer,” said Matthew.
Matthew is currently teaching music at an inner-city elementary school in New Haven. Music has always played a large role in Matthew’s life, and was also a large part of his recovery. He attended as many rehearsal sessions with the orchestra as he was able to during treatment and it served as a great support to him and helped him stay involved with school.
“Working in an inner-city school I see the difficult situations that some of these kids deal with daily. I bring the patience I’ve learned from having cancer to help them do their best. I bring the safety and reassurance I received from my doctors to make them feel cared about. And I also bring a positive outlook so they know that with effort, they can all make it too,” said Matthew.