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Noah Tolan, 22, recently completed his last round of chemo after a diagnosis of testicular cancer.
A red 2002 Ford Ranger comes to mind when Noah Tolan, 22, describes life before cancer. He was 16 and the first mechanical job he ever did in his life was put a new muffler on that truck. From that point on, he was hooked.
As a student at Southport High School he competed in free style and breaststroke on the swim team and played bass guitar in the jazz band. After high school he did what came naturally – he became a diesel mechanic working on semis and school busses.
Life was good for the only child of Candice and Danny Combs. One night he was out singing karaoke with friends and met someone special – her name was Melissa. She was the one.
In February he proposed to Melissa. It was about the same time that he broke down and went to see his family physician.
“I had a lot of pain on left side especially while walking and sitting or driving. If felt like someone kicked me in the groin. I let it go and let it go because I was too stubborn to go to the doctor,” said Tolan, of Greenwood. But after a three-hour plane ride for a work-related trip to Massachusetts he knew he could no longer ignore the pain.
“It was worse when I sat for a long time. I just thought it was some kind of infection,” said Tolan. By March, he knew it was something more than an infection. An ultrasound showed testicular cancer. He was referred to IU Health Simon Cancer Center oncologist Dr. Lawrence Einhorn; known for successful treatment of testicular cancer - germ cell tumors - using a mix of high dose chemotherapies and peripheral stem cell transplant.
“Hands down, Dr. Einhorn was the one to go to. I’m lucky I live so close because people come from all over the world to be treated by him,” said Tolan.
On April 6, Tolan was admitted for surgery and on June 6 he began chemotherapy. As he recently finished up his final round, Tolan wrote on a chalkboard the message: “Never Give up Fighting and Never Fight Alone.”
Oncology nurses Rhonda Weinzapfel, Julie McGugan, and Debra Newhouse, cheered Tolan on as he rang the bell three times, signaling the end to active treatment. He will return to IU Health Simon Cancer Center in August for surgery to remove infected lymph nodes around his kidney.
“I’m not bashful about telling people to check themselves and if they think something is wrong, go see a doctor,” said Tolan. “I put it off a couple months and maybe I would have avoided surgery if I’d gone sooner.”
He’s continued to work repairing vehicles during his treatment and has spent a lot of time resting. He’s also spent some time in the kitchen.
“I make great biscuits and gravy but I can’t eat it because it’s too spicy,” said Tolan. “Cooking has helped me do something normal, something day-to-day and has taken my mind off of the cancer.” He looks forward to having enough energy to go canoeing, camping and working out again.
The six months of treatment has given him plenty of time to reflect on friends, family, and his future.
“Before cancer, I don’t think I would have considered myself an exceptionally good person before but I think everything happens for a reason. If there’s a reason in this then make it a good one. I think people should live every day like they have cancer – don’t be bitter and blame God or the universe. Forgive people and ask them to forgive you.”
-- By T.J. Banes, Associate Senior Journalist at IU Health.
Reach Banes via email at T.J. Banes or on Twitter @tjbanes